Charlie Baker Wins Control of Massachusetts GOP

The governor also triumphed in a campaign finance battle, which is another victory that will help his 2018 reelection campaign.

Photo via AP

Photo via AP

It’s Charlie Baker’s party now.

Baker gained control of a key Massachusetts Republican Party position on Tuesday when his preferred candidate for the position of national party committeewoman, Rep. Keiko Orrall of Lakeville, defeated incumbent Chanel Prunier of Shrewsbury, on a vote of 41-37. The move solidifies a takeover Baker began in March when his closest supporters won a majority of the seats on the party’s powerful state committee.

It’s no secret that the governor has his own sophisticated fundraising and campaign operation, but now that he has his preferred people in the right places within the party organization, it strengthens his position for reelection in 2018. The addition of solidly pro-Baker committee members means Baker will now be more insulated than ever from the small number of loud conservative critics who consider him to be a Republican-In-Name-Only (RINO) who will betray the party’s principles.

Prunier ruffled the feathers of many pro-Baker Republicans and moderates when she worked for the addition of anti-abortion and anti-marriage equality to the party’s platform in 2014. Party platforms are largely irrelevant in modern American politics, except in cases like Baker’s when they’re used against a candidate. The 2014 MassGOP platform created a headache for then-candidate Baker, who was busy crafting his image as a Weld-like libertarianish Republican with strong management skills, a pragmatic sensibility, and a fiscally conservative but moderate social outlook on the issues of the day.

Contrary to the fight currently engulfing the national Republican Party, the fight between Baker and some of the party’s more conservative activists has been about control, not ideology. Many conservative activists Boston talked with in the days leading up to the election fretted that a Baker takeover of the party would make it all about him and not about building up the party’s minor stature in state affairs. The Republicans currently make up roughly 11 percent of registered voters in the state and control 19.5 percent of the seats in the state legislature.

State political parties, while ideological in nature, exist solely to elect the party’s candidates no matter how closely they align with the party’s stated positions, making a Thursday ruling by the state’s Office of Campaign and Political Finance on using federal funds on state races all the more important.  

The OCPF ruled that federal campaign finance law trumps state law, meaning that the Baker campaign and the party can continue to use a unique fundraising setup that has had state Democrats crying foul. The Globe reported in June and as recently as last month that the Baker campaign’s one-of-a-kind fundraising setup has helped him avoid directly paying for normal campaign expenses like rent, salaries, and benefits.

The joint fundraising structure, now approved by OCPF, allows Baker to legally blow past the $10,000 donation limit and raise $43,400 per year from individuals. The structure successfully raised $1.7 million in 2015. Baker’s committee started April with $3 million in cash on hand, a record sum for a governor in his first year. All this comes as Baker sits atop a statewide approval rating that makes him the most popular governor in America

In light of the ruling, Baker’s now-complete control of the party apparatus looks even more important for him than it did on Tuesday night.