Charlie Baker Kind of Has a Blankety-Blank Problem

And, well, Mark Fisher has one too.

Mark Fisher photo via AP

Mark Fisher photo via AP

At a 7:30 a.m. meeting with state committee members the day of the state convention, Massachusetts Republican Party officials explained that delegates could vote for Charlie Baker, Mark Fisher, or “Blank” when they cast ballots for gubernatorial endorsement. All of those choices, including the blanks, would be tallied and count toward the total votes cast. Those state committee members were then responsible for instructing delegates in their districts; meanwhile, party officials instructed the Baker and Fisher campaigns about those rules.

That’s what I heard from several of those committee members, as well as from a MassGOP spokesperson. The question of the moment is whether that methodology is allowed under the party’s own rules.

Fisher, a conservative gnat in Baker’s face, landed just under or just over the 15 percent bar in that vote, depending on whether those blanks are counted or not. The difference determines whether he gets to be on the September primary ballot.

So far, the arguments pro and con have me in that familiar sports-replay position: it looks like Fisher got jobbed, but I’m not sure the evidence is strong enough to overturn the call. We’ll see: Fisher seems pretty determined to use whatever legal avenues he can find to challenge the result.

Interestingly, Fisher also got screwed by a rule change eliminating the rounding-up of vote percentages. That’s what got Kamal Jain to 15 percent and a ballot spot in 2010.

Jain also got helped by a recount at the 2010 convention after the first tally put him at 14.1 percent. Fisher didn’t get a chance for a recount because the party gaveled closed the proceedings before even announcing the results. It doesn’t look like Fisher has any legal claim to a recount, but sure seems to have a claim from basic fairness, given the change in Jain’s recounted total four years ago.

None of this will have any ultimate effect on Baker’s capturing of the nomination; Fisher may or may not gain some traction among the party’s conservatives, but he’s not going to make Baker sweat on primary night.

He could, however, pester Baker over the coming months if he is on the ballot—especially if his fight for access gets ugly enough to draw attention that he couldn’t hope for otherwise.

Meanwhile, others stand ready to use the dispute to paint Baker as a sneak or bully, for either standing by silently or secretly conspiring with the party against Fisher. Independent gubernatorial candidate Jeff McCormick issued a press release today, asking: “Does Charlie Baker really believe that starting his campaign in this manner is the way to build trust with the people of Massachusetts?” (If Republicans complain, remind them that the party leveled similar rhetoric at Elizabeth Warren when Marisa DeFranco failed to make the ballot at the 2012 Democratic State Convention.)