Hughes Wins Re-Election As Massachusetts GOP Chairman

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NEWTON — Steve Aylward had the back of the room, but Kirsten Hughes had the front of the room where it really mattered.

Hughes defeated Aylward 46-30 in the race for chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party on Wednesday night.

About 100 people filled the back of a ballroom at the Newton Marriott during the meeting. Most supported the challenger Aylward, with some sporting red “Another Activist for Aylward” signs. A divider separated them from the approximately 80 state party committee members up front, who had the ability to vote.

Hughes, the incumbent chairman, had the backing of Governor Charlie Baker. While Hughes’s victory was expected, some observers during the last couple of days thought the race might be close because of recent disagreements in the party. In the end, it wasn’t.

But the race revealed and possibly widened fault lines in the state’s Republican Party. Hughes represents the Baker wing of the party, which was slow to support President Donald Trump, is generally fiscally conservative, and either doesn’t emphasize social issues or comes down on the liberal side of them.

Aylward, an early Trump supporter, stands for social as well as fiscal conservatism.

The two sides have also clashed over strategy, with Aylward supporters saying the state party doesn’t do enough to support down-ballot candidates, while Hughes supporters say the party has an efficient and realistic approach.

Another division surfaced earlier this month, over whether the state party was interested in disbursing tickets to President Donald Trump’s inaugural festivities to Trump supporters. Some Trump supporters accused the state party of dragging its feet, but state party leaders blamed the Trump transition team for not providing tickets quickly.

Each candidate spoke for about 15 minutes before the vote Wednesday night.

Aylward called himself a “true believer” in his speech, and he outlined clear positions on issues.

For the Republican Party to prosper in Massachusetts, he said, “We must craft and popularize a strong conservative message.”

Aylward came out for gun rights and against the Bathroom Bill (which Baker signed), Common Core, sanctuary cities, and abortion.

“And if you think that unrestricted access to abortion is a winning issue, just ask Hillary about how that worked out for her,” Aylward said.

He also pledged to return calls if elected chairman, a swipe at Hughes, whom critics have charged as being unresponsive.

Hughes announced a few weeks ago that she had commitments from a majority of state committee members, something Aylward chided her for as being premature.

“In my humble opinion, the only people that we have a commitment to are the people in the back of the room, the activists,” he said.

Hughes in her speech sounded like she knew she had the race won, even pledging to incorporate Aylward’s ideas in her second term.

She touted her support for Baker’s agenda, including the governor’s attempts to wring cost savings from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

Hughes also noted that Massachusetts Republicans gained a net of one seat in the state Legislature in November. While modest, it’s the first time Republicans have gained representation at the state level during a presidential election in heavily Democratic Massachusetts since Ronald Reagan won Massachusetts in 1984.

“When you cast your ballot tonight, I hope you’ll remember how far we have come in the last four years,” Hughes said.

Looking ahead, she said the U.S. Senate race in 2018 is a priority for the party.

“We must meet the critical task of challenging Elizabeth Warren,” Hughes said, to applause. “And for the sake of the commonwealth — and dare I say the nation — we must defeat her.”

Hughes called for party unity while acknowledging recent difficulties.

“We can end the dissensions of the past year, join together, and continue to grow our party,” Hughes said. “We owe it to Governor Baker and to President Trump.”

Hughes’s strategy seemed aimed in part at Trump supporters and conservatives. She acknowledged her recent endorsement by Vincent DeVito, a member of the State Republican Committee who headed the Trump campaign in Massachusetts. She called him “a longtime friend.”

Before the candidates’ speeches, each had a committee member give a nominating speech and another committee member give a speech seconding the nomination.

Brock Cordeiro of Dartmouth, a National Rifle Association member who said he prays outside abortion clinics, nominated Hughes, even though he said he sometimes disagrees with her.

Cordeiro called the state Republican Party under Hughes’s leadership “stronger than it has ever been.”

Judy Crocker of Centerville seconded Hughes’s nomination. She noted that the party has raised $13 million during the past four years since Hughes became chairman. “It has been distributed smartly down the ballot,” Crocker said.

Dennis Galvin of Westford nominated Aylward.

He noted that Hughes supporters tend to call for the party to take a pragmatic approach in liberal-leaning Massachusetts, but he questioned that approach.

“When we go so far as to think things cannot change, pragmatism erodes into defeatism,” Galvin said.

Deborah Dugan of Watertown seconded Aylward’s nomination. She said the state Republican Party needs to change what it does and should take advantage of enthusiasm for Trump.

“We have this opportunity, and we might not have it for a long time, because our constituents are excited,” she said. “… That doesn’t happen too often in Massachusetts.”

The vote was by secret ballot.

The state committee has 80 members. Seventy-six voted for one of the two candidates. One ballot was blank, and another ballot was ruled “illegal.” Two members didn’t attend.

In brief remarks after the vote was announced, both Hughes and Aylward said they would work together.