Baker’s GOP state committee picks rile incumbents

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BOSTON – Gov. Charlie Baker’s endorsements of Massachusetts Republican State Committee candidates is stirring up some controversy within the party.

Steven Aylward, a conservative state committee member from Watertown, hasn’t gotten Baker’s backing, while his opponent for the Second Suffolk and Middlesex district seat, Neil St. Clair of Boston, says he has the governor’s support. Aylward says Baker didn’t respond to his request for an endorsement.

“We’re a small party he seems to be picking a fight,” Aylward said in an interview. “He’s finding political enemies in his own party. There’s not enough of us to be finding political enemies.”

Baker has endorsed 74 candidates for the 80-seat committee, according to a report on the news website. Roughly two-thirds of those he has backed, 52 in all, are running in contested races, according to the report. Baker told the site run by the Springfield Republican newspaper that he and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito “feel like at some level we should return the favor” to those party activists who helped him run for governor in 2010 and get elected to the job in 2014.

State committee member Deb Martell of Ludlow told MassLive that Baker “should remain neutral, because he should be supporting us all.” Baker has endorsed her opponent.

I think he should just stay out of it,” Martell told the website.

Committee elections occur March 1, the same day as the state presidential primary vote.

Although some reports have suggested that Baker is helping more moderate Republicans get elected to the committee, pushing aside more conservative candidates, Chanel Prunier of Shrewsbury, a member of the party’s national committee, has disputed those suggestions. She said by email in November that “many of the incumbents the governor is supporting are conservative in their beliefs.”

While he champions conservative causes like charter school expansion, Baker’s more moderate stances on social issues he supports same-sex marriage and abortion rights may have helped him sustain the popularity that got him elected. He topped all U.S. governors in job-approval ratings in a poll released in November by Morning Consult, a Washington-based media company.

Contact Kara Bettis at [email protected] or on Twitter @karabettis.