Orrall elected, Kaufman says GOP 'strongest we've been in a long time'
QUINCY >> Even before state Rep. Keiko Orrall prevailed Tuesday night in her bid to become the next Republican National Committee member from Massachusetts, state Republican Party leaders expressed their hope that the party could unite after a divisive season of local campaigns in which Gov. Charlie Baker played a central role.
Orrall defeated incumbent national committeewoman Chanel Prunier by a slim margin, winning 41 votes from the 80-member Republican State Committee to Prunier's 37 votes. Incumbent Ron Kaufman, a former senior advisor to Mitt Romney and White House aide to President George H.W. Bush, also won re-election as national committeeman by acclamation after Jack E. Robinson withdrew from consideration Monday.
The victory for Orrall, who ran with the governor's backing, helped further cement Baker's control over the party after the first-term governor played a surprisingly integral role in helping elect a majority of the committee in the March 1 elections.
Baker raised and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to support candidates for the committee that he said had supported him, angering some in the conservative activist wing of the MassGOP who felt betrayed when Baker backed their challengers.
"I'm committed to working to bridge any divides. I believe I am the only candidate who can advance us from the recent negativity and into a brighter positive future," Orrall told members of the State Committee before the vote.
Prunier, who has held the national post since 2013, had a similar message. "Tonight, the healing has to begin," said Prunier, who despite losing said she would remain active within the party and will remain an automatic delegate to Republican National Convention in July.
Some members of the party said it will take more than rhetoric to bring the party together.
Steve Aylward, a state committee member from Watertown, backed Prunier and said he will be looking for tangible signs that Baker and the party's hierarchy are willing to work with and include those on the opposing side in decision-making moving forward.
"I think the burden is on the MassGOP, the administration, the Baker people to come forward and begin the healing. I'm hoping to see some signs from the Baker people and the MassGOP that they are willing to bridge the gap, but talk is cheap. We can all talk about healing but I want to see something," Aylward said.
Orrall, a Lakeville Republican who entered the House in 2011 after winning a special election in a previously Democrat-controlled district, touted her opposition in the Legislature to PARCC and Common Core education standards as well as perfect ratings from state pro-life, anti-tax and gun rights groups.
She told the state committee that she had an eight-point plan to continue to build the GOP brand in Massachusetts that included a personal pledge to help generate more "positive media" through television and radio appearances and published op-eds.
In order to build the ranks in the House and Senate with an immediate goal of having enough members to sustain a gubernatorial veto, Orrall said the party must do better to groom candidates for state and federal office and support those candidates with fundraising and policy advice.
She also said the party must fight to register more Republican voters and "revitalize" its organization at the town and ward levels. "We must stop being the party of 11 percent," Orrall said, referring to the GOP share of registered voters.
While Baker did not attend the meeting at the Quincy Marriott, earlier in the day he told the News Service that Orrall was a "proven leader, a proven collaborator."
"She is someone who can rise above whatever the differences might be between and among people in the party on one issue or another, and it's always been one of her strongest characteristics and best traits," Baker said.
Preferring to call the state committee contest "competitive" rather than contentious, Baker said one need only look to the presidential race to see that there are "schisms all over both parties" and not confined to Republicans.
"The Clinton-Sanders thing is getting very rugged on their side, the stuff on our side is rugged and I've always been a big believer that in the end success in politics and success in government is about your ability to work with others, whatever your particular points of view or positions are on one issue or another, and I've always really admired Keiko's ability to do that," he said.
Prunier, a conservative activist who led the Coalition for Marriage and Family during the fight against gay marriage, said she was proud of her record of helping to elect Republicans across the state. Rep. Jim Lyons, who gave her nominating speech Tuesday night, credited her with working on more than 125 campaigns and playing an integral role in more than doubling the GOP's ranks in the House in the 2010 election.
"The question I have is why not re-elect Chanel Prunier. Usually you decide to get rid of someone because they're not doing their job," Lyons argued.
Before the vote, Prunier said she felt the attention focused on the party races may have cost the Republicans a special election in Fitchburg where Dean Tran narrowly lost to Stephan Hay on March 1.
"I know my attention was not on Dean Tran's race to the level I that would have liked and I think I speak for a lot of people in the party who were either caught up in their own state committee races or volunteering for state committee candidates when they might have otherwise descended upon Fitchburg," Prunier said.
Janet Fogarty, a Scituate state committee member, said she came to Quincy undecided, but was convinced to support Orrall, in part, by her argument for becoming a more public champion for Republican ideas.
"We can't afford to lose Chanel as a party in this state and I would hate to see that happen but I do believe Keiko and her plan is the right direction," Fogarty said.
During her time as national committeewoman Prunier may not have been the most public face of the party. But as some Republicans tried to understand why Baker would oppose her, several have referred back to her public criticism of the governor for signing his name to an amicus brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of gay marriage.
Asked about how she would handle disagreements with Baker, Orrall said "it's not my style" to openly criticize the leader of her party, but she would address any concerns with the governor privately.
Kaufman, a fixture in Massachusetts Republican politics, brushed off any suggestions that Baker had caused a rift by getting involved in intraparty politics, particularly the assertion that Baker might be trying to steer the MassGOP to the center.
"Not really," Kaufman said. "It had nothing to do with anything other than the governor wanted to upgrade the state committee. It's very important to him. He cares a great deal and having an active state committee is really important to him, so it had nothing to do with ideology. It was about people being involved and trying to get new blood into the party."
Kaufman said, in fact, that the party is the "strongest we've been in a long time," citing record numbers of voters participating in Republican elections, a popular governor in the corner office and a party raising more money than ever before.
"Just like Marco Rubio whose mentor is Jeb Bush. They both ran for president. There's nothing wrong with that. That's the process. There are a lot of people helping Bernie Sanders that were big supporters of Mrs. Clinton in the past and vice versa. That's politics," he said.
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