Baker criticized for meddling in GOP committee races

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BOSTON Charlie Baker’s mission to transform the Massachusetts Republican State Committee into a more moderate group notched some success Tuesday, as sources say the governor’s candidates claimed nearly half of the 52 head-to-head races.

Baker’s support for less conservative candidates angered activists further to the right within the state GOP. On Wednesday morning, the, a blog managed by committee member Steve Aylward of Watertown, ripped the governor over his moves to shape the group.

“It is clear that Team Baker spent at least $1 million to try to defeat fellow Republicans,” wrote a blogger under the pen name Victoria Woodhull. Woodhull was a historical figure who spearheaded the women’s suffrage movement.

“I don’t know how any loyal Republicans could support what he did,” the blogger wrote. “That money should have been used to win the three special elections.”

Aylward didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about the post. He successfully defended his Belmont-based committee seat Tuesday, defeating Neil St. Clair, who had Baker’s support.

The state committee governs the party and is responsible for establishing policies, providing leadership during local elections and raising money for chosen candidates.

Baker “has endorsed candidates who have been supportive grassroots advocates and who share his vision of an inclusive Republican Party focused on growing its numbers and winning elections,” a top Baker adviser told the Boston Globe last month. In other words, the governor is looking to steer the state GOP towards backing candidates for local and legislative offices that may be more electable.

Tim Buckley, a Baker spokesman, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about the post.

 While Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton dominated Bay State headlines Tuesday night, presidential primary day also featured three special elections for the state House of Representatives. Democrats won in all three, in districts centered on Brockton, Peabody and Fitchburg. The night resulted in a net loss of one Republican-held House seat, as Stephanie Peach, the GOP candidate running to replace former state Rep. Leah Cole (R-Peabody), lost. Cole resigned in September to focus on her nursing career. Peach was her legislative aide.

“She did not get five mailings,” the Victoria Woodhull blogger wrote about Peach, a thinly veiled jab at Baker’s decision to pay for a series of direct mailings that urged voters to back his slate of moderates in Republican committee races against more conservative incumbents.

While he did not send out mailers or help raise money to fund any other marketing on her behalf, Baker actively supported Peach and last Sunday participated in a campaign rally.  

Cole will be succeeded by Democrat Thomas Walsh, a former state representative who will be heading back to Beacon Hill. Walsh previously served in the House from 1987 until 1995, according to the Lynn Item newspaper.

In Fitchburg, city Councilor-at-Large Stephen Hay, a Democrat, narrowly bested Republican and fellow Councilor Dean Tran. The Sentinel and Enterprise newspaper reported that Hay netted 4,606 votes compared to Tran’s 4,486. Hay will replace Stephen DiNatale, a Democrat who resigned to become the city’s mayor in January.

The race to succeed former state Rep. Michael Brady (D-Brockton), who moved to the Senate after winning a special election for the upper chamber last fall, was uncontested, according to the Brocketon Enterprise newspaper. Brady’s seat was filled by Democrat and Brockton resident Gerry Cassidy, a former legislative aide to the late Sen. Tom Kennedy, who Brady replaced.

On primary day, Baker sent out a pair of emails urging Republican voters to back his slate of state committee candidates. In one, he said, “Today is a critical day for our ability to keep delivering on that change,” referring to what he claimed people have said regarding his leadership while in office.

“I’ve heard it a lot: the new direction that we’ve brought to Beacon Hill in the last year is a breath of fresh air, and has shown voters what real Republican leadership looks like here in Massachusetts,” Baker wrote.

According to initial results, Baker’s candidates won 25 out of 52 contested committee races, losing out on 17 slots with the remaining 10 deemed too close to call by Wednesday morning. Baker also endorsed an additional 22 candidates running in uncontested races. There are 80 elected committee members, one man and one woman for each of the state’s 40 Senate districts.

While Baker may have been counting the victories, Aylward’s website voiced criticism that may be shared by many in the state GOP’s more conservative wing.

“Are we a party or a club?” Woodhull asked in the blog post. “Are we interested in defeating Democrats or going along to get along? Team Baker spent more money to defeat Republicans than Democrats. He owes every activist an apology.”

Tuesday’s results, which saw Trump sweep up almost half of Republican votes as part of his seven-state Super Tuesday haul, prompted the Massachusetts GOP to release a strange statement, with Chairwoman Kirsten Hughes congratulating Republican candidates but not mentioning the New York billionaire and former reality television star.