Taking on “special interests” at the MBTA. Stopping a proposed $1 billion expansion of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. Repairing a “broken” health insurance exchange and slowing down the opioid epidemic sweeping Massachusetts.
Those were some of the accomplishments Gov. Charlie Baker, buoyed by a humming economy, touted in a speech to 2,200 fellow Republicans inside Worcester’s DCU Center, asking for their support as he gears up his campaign for a second four-year term.
Baker, a moderate Republican from Swampscott, faced lukewarm support from some quarters of the party, as controversial anti-gay pastor Scott Lively of Springfield, seeking to serve as a more conservative alternative, won a quarter of GOP delegate votes to qualify for the primary ballot.
Baker received 69.7 percent of delegates’ votes, and the endorsement of the convention, while Lively received 26.7 percent, according to the GOP’s tally.
“GOP: Growth. Opportunity. And Prosperity,” Baker told the crowd before the vote. “That’s who we are.”
Two Democrats are vying to take Baker on in November after their own primary. Jay Gonzalez, former budget aide to ex-Gov. Deval Patrick, and Bob Massie, an environmental activist, remain in the race after former Newton Mayor Setti Warren abruptly dropped out this week, citing fundraising woes.
Baker won in 2014 by roughly 40,000 votes, a narrow margin.
“We need a strong, united Republican Party to serve as a check on the Democrat majorities,” Baker said, referring to the Democrat-dominated Massachusetts House and Senate he often praises for working closely with him on legislation.
Baker pointed to recent GOP pick-ups in Fitchburg and on the Cape with state Sen. Dean Tran and state Rep. Will Crocker. Since becoming the head of the Republican Party in Massachusetts, Baker said he’s been focused on building a “fiscally disciplined, performance oriented Republican Party that can go toe to toe with the Democrats.”
The governor also sought to highlight the differences between him and the Democrats: He backs the death penalty for people who fatally shoot police officers, a reduction in the state sales tax and a permanent sales tax holiday, and allowing state prison officials working with federal immigration officials to remove undocumented immigrants.
“Our opponents don’t,” he said after citing each policy.
Baker, who opposed the legalization of marijuana, also said public health insurance shouldn’t cover marijuana, as Gonzalez, one of the Democratic opponents, has called for.
Lively, a supporter of President Donald Trump while Baker has repeatedly distanced himself from the GOP businessman, told the crowd, “I’m 100 percent pro-Trump.”
Lively said Baker is taking credit for a successful economy while “one man in this nation is responsible for the economic miracle…that’s our president Donald Trump.”
Lively also criticized Baker for not meeting with Vice President Mike Pence during the top Republican’s recent visit, and hanging out with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera and other “leftists.”
Greg Neffinger, the former of mayor of West Springfield, said he backs Lively as a someone who has “pro-life” and “pro-family” values.
Neffinger backed Baker four years ago. “But I saw those conservative values attacked in these last four years,” Neffinger said.
Lively said he doesn’t believe the multiple polls showing Baker with high approval ratings. The high poll numbers come despite a series of Massachusetts State Police scandals that prompted Baker to propose reforms for the law enforcement agency.
“I think Mr. Baker is extraordinarily vulnerable, and the only reason that he is showing the numbers he has, is because he hasn’t had to defend his Republicanism to Republicans,” Lively told MassLive while standing next to his table inside the DCU Center.