Baker rolls to GOP endorsement
But will face unwelcome primary challenge from conservative pastor
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER offered up enough red meat to cheer a conservative-leaning crowd of Republican delegates at his party’s state convention — before he heads out on the campaign trail to peddle the more mixed menu that appeals to the large swath of moderate voters he’ll need to win reelection in November.
Baker was resoundingly endorsed by Republican delegates who gathered Saturday in Worcester for the party’s nominating convention. He easily cleared the 50 percent mark needed for the party endorsement, winning support from 69.8 percent of the 2,261 delegates casting ballots at the DCU Center. But far-right firebrand Scott Lively delivered a jolt to the convention by easily clearing the 15 percent support needed to win a spot on the September primary ballot. Lively garnered 27.7 percent of the delegate vote.
Going into the convention there were doubts about whether Lively, a fringe candidate with little money or formal campaign organization, could meet the 15 percent threshold. But he pulled nearly twice that level of support from delegates. The vote seemed to reflect as much a strong discontent with Baker among the party’s conservative base as it did any widespread embrace of Lively’s out-of-the-mainstream views.
The “Stuck with Chuck” bumper stickers that some activists threatened would be on display to show antipathy toward Baker weren’t in evidence. But the strong vote for Lively sent the same message.
In his speech to the convention, Baker sounded familiar themes of fiscal discipline and the importance of Republicans serving as a check on the state’s Democratic-dominated Legislature.
“Simply put,” said Baker, “a fiscally disciplined, performance-oriented Republican Party that can go toe to toe with the Democrats makes this state better and stronger. Because competition creates accountability and constructive friction works.”
Baker went on to draw a broad distinction between the two parties, offering a sharply partisan speech very different from the collaborative tone he strikes in most settings.
“The short story on this one: They believe in a bigger, more intrusive, less accountable state government, we don’t,” said Baker.
Baker ticked off a list of issues that distinguish him from his Democratic opponents, from support for the death penalty for “cop killers” and mandatory minimum sentences for fentanyl dealers to opposing driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. He also voiced support for reducing the state sales tax, something that may be the subject of a November ballot question — but didn’t specify by how much.
The crowd of delegates erupted with cheers at almost every mention by speakers of the party’s national leader, President Trump. Gatherings of both major parties tend to be dominated by true believers that pull them toward to the poles — to the left for Democrats, to the right for Republicans. Saturday’s GOP convention was no exception.
Lively, a hard-right pastor and attorney from Shelburne Falls who has tied Nazism to homosexuality, gave voice to conservatives who are unhappy with Baker’s more moderate ways. He ripped the governor for skipping out on greeting Vice President Mike Pence on his recent fundraising trip to Boston, while accepting the endorsement of Lawrence mayor Dan Rivera, a Democrat whom Lively linked to the sanctuary city status adopted by his community.
“No, this state is not better off with you, Charlie Baker,” Lively said in his speech. “We need real conservative values in Massachusetts.”
Lou Valanzola, a member of the Rockland Republican Town Committee, said he was “very disappointed” in Baker’s performance in office. “He’s afraid they’re going to override his vetoes so he never stands up to them,” Valanzola said of Baker’s dealings with Democrats on Beacon Hill. Speaking before the balloting, Valanzola said he was likely to vote for Lively. “I don’t mind seeing a primary. It will keep Baker honest,” he said.
Some delegates managed to bridge the divide between the party’s two wings.
“Trump is the base of the party, not the fringe.” said Kevin Jourdain, a former president of the Holyoke City Council and big Trump supporter. “I think running away from the president is disastrous,” he said. But in the next breath, Jourdain cut some slack to Baker, who has done just that. “That’s because this is Massachusetts,” he said, alluding to the dominance of Democrats. “I give him a pass.”
A source with one statewide candidate said a recent internal campaign poll asked likely Republican primary voters whether they consider themselves more of a “Charlie Baker Republican” or a “Donald Trump Republican.” By a 2-to-1 margin, likely GOP primary voters — 60 percent of whom were not registered Republicans — said they identify more as a Trump Republican.
But the general election is where the governor is elected, and Baker understands that well.
In a recent UMass Lowell/Boston Globe poll of likely Democratic primary voters in the Third Congressional District in the Merrimack Valley, 80 percent said they approved of the job Baker was doing, virtually the same as the 81 percent who gave Sen. Elizabeth Warren favorable marks. By contrast, 88 percent of those polled disapproved of the job president was doing, and fully 81 percent said they strongly disapprove.
“I think the governor’s done an excellent job with the state we have. It’s a blue state,” said Laura Sapienza-Grabski, a delegate from Boxford, sporting a “Women for Charlie” button. “We need to give him more support,” she said, citing the fact that Republicans only hold seven of the 40 seats in the state Senate.
“He’s in a bind,” she said of Baker’s need to play ball Democrats in the Legislature. “What’s he going to do? Throw a temper tantrum?”Jennifer Nassour, former chairwoman of the Massachusetts Republican Party, put a positive spin on the strong support for Lively, which caught many by surprise. She said it shows Baker is doing what he needs to do win in Democratic-leaning Massachusetts.
“It shows that he’s doing everything right,” Nassour said. “If he made everyone happy here, he would be in trouble in November.”