What Did Charlie Baker Know and When Did He Know It?

The outcome of the Massachusetts Republican Convention leads to one very important question:

What did Charlie Baker know, and when did he know it?

When did Baker know that his campaign’s effort to deny a primary ballot spot to Tea Party challenger Mark Fisher was in trouble?  What did his campaign’s chief delegate tracker tell him on Friday night about the number of delegates expected to attend, the number committed to Baker, the number committed to Fisher, the number (heaven help us) who would sit through a convention for eight hours and then vote abstain/blank/present? What did this information look like a week out, a month out, or at the caucuses?

For delegates not committed or loosely committed to either candidate, what was Baker’s delegate tracking operation telling him were their interests, what would sway them toward a Baker vote? Did the campaign put him in position to act on that information?

What did the counts look like from the convention floor throughout the day – what were the reports from the campaign’s senate district coordinators? Did delegates who told the campaign they would stay home show up, and who were they going to vote for? Did some Baker delegates not show, and some Fisher voters show up unexpectedly? If it looked like Baker delegates were leaving early, did the campaign intercede with the Republican State Committee to move the proceedings quickly to a vote? How many delegations did Baker visit on Saturday? What was the “Absentee 64” thinking and what could have persuaded them to vote Baker? When did the State Committee inform the Baker campaign that a blank vote would be tallied as “present” and be counted in the final tally? How did that information influence his floor operation?

The three MassPoliticsProfs attended the convention and had free access to the floor. Speaking only for myself, I didn’t see any urgency on the floor at all. I arrived around 9:30 and spotted Baker mingling with a few delegates. Later I spotted him near the podium, close by to where Governor Weld was sitting. That was about it.

By the way how many of those delegates were recruited to be ward, town, or precinct captains for the Baker campaign?

The convention may be Baker’s canary in a coal mine. If his organization can’t put a whuppin’ on Mark Fisher, how do they expect to compete with the Democratic Party machine in the fall?

Charlie Baker may need Mark Fisher on the ballot at this point. Right now there is little reason for anyone to get involved in his or her neighborhood pushing the Baker campaign. Nothing happens of any note for Baker until the primary, seven weeks before the general election. Building a competitive organization takes months, even years. You hold a ward or town organization meeting one week, two people show, the next week three show, the following week back to two, the next week five show up, and on and on until you have enough people who know how to organize a canvass and do the important door to door work and Get Out the Vote operation that brings electoral success. It takes time. Seven weeks isn’t enough.

I concur with Professor Duquette’s research presented yesterday, Fisher can’t hurt and may help. Governor Weld is offering sound advice to allow Fisher on the ballot. It gives the Baker campaign something to fight for until September and the opportunity to build an organization.

Baker has shown magnanimity in party matters before. In 2012 when many GOP regulars were beaten at the party caucuses for spots at the national convention, the Romneyite party leadership played dirty to knock several of the insurgents out. Baker would have none of it and graciously stood aside. A similar gesture toward Fisher could be a case of doing well while doing good.

Across the country the Republican establishment is panicked by the possibility of being embarrassed by being beaten by Tea Party candidates. Here the establishment is being embarrassed by beating a Tea Party candidate.

Only in Massachusetts.


About Maurice T. Cunningham

Maurice T. Cunningham is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He teaches courses in American government including Massachusetts Politics, The American Presidency, Catholics in Political Life, The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, American Political Thought, and Public Policy. His book Maximization, Whatever the Cost: Race, Redistricting and the Department of Justice examines the role of the DOJ in requiring states to maximize minority voting districts in the Nineties. He has published articles dealing with the role of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts politics and on party politics in the state. His research interests focus upon the changing political culture of Massachusetts.
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