WORCESTER, Mass. — Newly elected Sen. Scott Brown implored Massachusetts Republicans on Saturday to rally around gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker, saying he has the best chance of ousting a tempting target, Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick, a close ally of President Barack Obama.
“The political machine that runs this state is making the same mistakes they’re making in Washington,” Brown told more than 3,000 delegates at the Republican State Convention, who greeted him with a standing ovation and lusty cheers.
Brown, who upset the Democrats to claim a pivotal U.S. Senate vote in January, also asked the delegates to help Republicans win state House and Senate races so Baker has “the foot soldiers” he needs to sustain a veto “and have real power to do the people’s business.” Democrats occupy more than 85 percent of all seats in the Legislature.
Baker, the former Harvard Pilgrim Health Care president, was the clear favorite for gubernatorial nominee among the delegates. But convenience store magnate Christy Mihos was aiming for a primary showdown with Baker, and he needed the support of 15 percent of the delegates — about 465 people — to qualify for September’s GOP ballot.
In an impressive display of support among party leaders and activists, Baker won 89 percent of the delegate votes, while Mihos got 11 percent, falling well short of the 15 percent threshold needed to qualify for the September primary ballot. GOP leaders said Baker’s margin was the biggest in recent convention history.
Baker aides were hopeful of avoiding a divisive and expensive primary, which would expend resources they hope to spend in a fall campaign against Patrick. They summoned former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, the party’s unsuccessful 2006 gubernatorial nominee, to nominate Baker. Mihos briefly left the party on 2006 to challenge Healey as an independent.
“I think he not only hurt my candidacy; I think he also hurt the candidacy of all Republican candidates on the ballot at that time,” Healey said before her speech. She said Mihos “is not a loyal Republican.”
The Baker camp is also trying to husband its money and energy because it faces the specter of a three-way race this fall. State Treasurer Timothy Cahill defected from the Democratic Party and has decided to run for governor as an independent.
Cahill is trying to claim the same ground as Baker as the fiscally conservative alternative to Patrick. He had planned to shake hands outside the convention hall, but he was not readily visible after attending a convention-eve party.
“I’m a fan of anyone who’d like to run being able to run, but, personally, I don’t think he’s proven himself as a credible candidate,” delegate Mike Boucher of Rockport said, referring to Mihos. “But, if he wants to spend his money — and other people’s money — running, so be it.”
A more hopeful spirit than usual permeated the DCU Center in Worcester, as the delegates basked in the glory of Brown’s victory. A delegate himself four years ago as a state senator, Brown beat Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley to claim the Senate seat held for nearly a half-century by the late Edward M. Kennedy.
He reprised a familiar campaign line in his greeting to the delegates: “I’m Scott Brown. I’m from Wrentham. And I still drive a truck.”
As the crowd cheered, he added: “However, this time, the truck is parked outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.”
Brown’s win was part of a streak that began before Obama completed his first year in office, as Republicans won gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia. The Brown victory, propelled in part by like-minded tea party activists, was followed by the decision of several high-profile Democrats deciding against seeking re-election this midterm year.
They include U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., and Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., who was targeted by conservatives after he supported Obama’s health care overhaul.
“I just think the whole face of the party is changing,” said Rep. Karyn Polito of Shrewsbury, a candidate for state treasurer. “Where it was aging, we now have a lot of newcomers with us today. I think this is a great time to plug into that energy and make a change in the Statehouse,” she said.
While Polito has endorsed Baker for governor, she spoke diplomatically of Mihos.
“I think everyone should have a shot at getting the nomination at the convention,” she said.
The GOP is hoping its nominee can prevent Patrick from winning a second term in November. It would not only allow the party to regain the Corner Office in the Statehouse, which it held for the 16 years before Patrick won in 2006, but it would set an especially negative story line for the final two years of the term for Obama.
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