Baker succeeds in efforts put stamp on state Republican State Committee


BOSTON >> Gov. Charlie Baker managed to put his thumbprint on the state Republican Party apparatus in Tuesday's election. But while the GOP's standardbearer can now claim a solid majority on the state committee, his foray into local grassroots politics still left some bruises.

Fifty-two of the 74 candidates Baker endorsed for seats on the 80-member Republican State Committee claimed victory after the final votes were tallied Wednesday and into Thursday, while 22 of the candidates the governor backed lost their races.

The overall win for the governor only tells part of the story, as many of the candidates supported by Baker ran uncontested.

In the 54 contested races, Baker endorsed 52 candidates and saw his slate win 29 races and lose 22 seats. Only five of the 16 incumbents challenged by a Baker-backed candidate got knocked off.

"I'm pleased that for the most part the people that I supported and the people that supported me won and we're looking forward to getting back to the work of continuing to create a competitive political climate here in Massachusetts," Baker said Wednesday.

The popular first-term governor, heading into the mid-term elections in November, put a significant amount of capital on the line by wading into intraparty politics in what was widely seen as a move to stack the state committee with more moderate-leaning Republicans.

At least 17 of Baker's slate of candidates work within the governor's administration. They had mixed results on Tuesday. And not all of Baker's preferred candidates hewed to his socially liberal and fiscally conservative brand of Republicanism. For instance, Baker endorsed Andover Rep. Jim Lyons, a Texas Sen. Ted Cruz supporter who is one of the most conservative members of the House.

Among the notable results on Tuesday, Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke lost his race despite support from Baker, as did 2014 statewide candidates David D'Arcangelo, who now works in the administration after running for secretary of state, and John Miller, who ran for attorney general.

On the other side, Ronna Prunier, the mother of the Republican National Committeewoman Chanel Prunier, lost to Baker's pick Lindsay Valanzola, while Bonnie Johnson, an incumbent and statewide field director for Donald Trump's successful campaign in Massachusetts, lost in the First Worcester District to Kristina Spillane.

Lacking enough Republicans in the House and Senate to sustain a veto or force Democrats to embrace his policy positions, Baker has vowed to give voters more choices and to build the party's grassroots in an effort to be more competitive in elections and on Beacon Hill where Democrats have long controlled the Legislature. The committee, in addition to setting the party's platform, plays a role in recruiting and providing financial support to down-ballot candidates.

His involvement in the state committee contests, however, has left the governor with some work ahead if he wants to rebuild trust within pockets of the Republican activist community.

"I was surprised he took sides after all I've done for Charlie and Karyn," said Marty Lamb, who won a state committee seat Tuesday despite being opposed by Baker. "I think that the governor is going to have a lot of hard work ahead of him to try to mend the broken bridges, the bridges he's torn down, with the grassroots in the Commonwealth."

Lamb, who started a political action committee in 2014 to support the anti-gas tax indexing campaign and sympathetic candidates, said he took "heat" from conservative friends when he endorsed Baker over the more conservative Mark Fisher.

Many of activists who Republican candidates rely on to hold signs and go door-to-door in all kinds of weather were left with a bad taste after these contests. "They're furious to put it bluntly, and they're not going to be wooed back easily by saying, 'Hey, guys let's move on,'" Lamb said.

Mary Lou Daxland, the president of the Massachusetts Republican Assembly, lost her bid to return to the state committee to a Baker-supported challenger. While she said she's disappointed, Daxland said she won't stop her work with the assembly fighting to elect conservative Republican candidates.

"It wasn't a total cleansing. That's the bottom line," Daxland said. "There's still a group of grassroots conservatives, and hopefully he'll pay attention to the fact that there are people who have viewpoints that are different than his. I'm not going to keep my mouth shut."

The Republican Assembly, which bills itself as the conservative wing of the Republican Party in Massachusetts, has long been at odds with Baker, and Baker did not support a single one of their candidates for state committee this cycle.

The Assembly endorsed Baker's primary opponent Mark Fisher in the 2014 election, and Daxland ultimately voted for ultra-conservative pastor Scott Lively in November. While she would eventually say she was "OK" with Baker's victory, she never became an enthusiastic supporter.

"The reason I did that was I believe that we need to vote our conscience, and because I'm a conservative. Too many times we've gone into the voting booth and said, 'I'm going to vote the lesser of two evils,' " Daxland told the News Service last January about picking Lively over Baker.

Peter Ubertaccio, a political science professor at Stonehill College, said in the run-up to Tuesday's election that the risk, while there, is probably minimal to Baker's future political prospects in Massachusetts.

"I don't think it's a great risk. If he loses, it's the difference between having a headache and having your head handed to you," Ubertaccio said. "If he loses numbers he may have a headache at the convention, but the state committee can't cost him any lasting damage and any headaches he incurs from the very small base of Republican activists that care about these elections is probably easily cured by the more independent-minded Republicans or unenrolled voters that he needs for long-term success."

Ubertaccio called the state committee races "the height of insider baseball" with a small team out on the field. "He risks angering activists who may not want to organize when he runs for re-election but there hasn't been a Republican governor facing election that has suffered because they're at odds with the state committee and it could be an asset in winning over independent and moderate Democratic voters," he said.

To support his slate of candidates, the Boston Globe reported that Baker raised more than $300,000 from donors that do not have to be disclosed under state campaign finance rules because the funds were used for party races, not public elected office. Daxland, however, suspects the governor may have spent more given the volume of mailers, robocalls and radio advertisements she witnessed.

Lamb also said he had his doubts about the governor's motivations: "I think that this was not a war of conservatives versus moderates."

The Holliston Republican said he's heard "speculation" that Baker might try to use his new committee influence to change the caucus process used to select delegates to the national convention in July to allow the presidential candidates to select their own delegates. That could give the party more influence over who gets to represent it in Cleveland, even if those delegates are already committed to a candidate based on Tuesday's primary results.

The suspicions trace back to 2012 when the state committee disqualified a slate of delegates loyal to libertarian Ron Paul who had organized a sweep of many caucuses, thereby blocking many of Mitt Romney's handpicked delegates. Baker, who is no fan of Trump or Cruz this cycle and could be thinking about a brokered convention, was one of those blocked in 2012 by the Liberty Slate.

"That would make a lot of sense to me," Lamb said.


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