BOSTON — Delegates to the Republican state convention strongly backed Charlie Baker for their party’s gubernatorial nomination on Saturday, and conservative tea party member Mark Fisher just barely missed receiving enough support to force a contested GOP primary.
“It’s time for a new direction, one in which taxpayer’s interests are first and special interests are last,” Baker said in a speech to the roughly 2,500 delegates at Boston University’s Agganis Arena.
The former chief executive of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care was the party’s standard-bearer in 2010, losing to Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick in the general election. Patrick is not seeking a third term.
The GOP is hoping to make inroads in Massachusetts, where it currently holds no statewide offices, no seats in the state’s congressional delegation and is outnumbered about 5-to-1 in the Legislature.
Baker received 82 percent of the 2,500 delegates, while Fisher finished with just less than 14.8 percent, according to GOP Chairwoman Kirsten Hughes. Fisher needed 15 percent of the delegates to force a primary.
“14.765 is not 15 percent,” Hughes said when asked whether Fisher would be allowed on the ballot.
Hughes said there were 64 ballots turned in that were blank, but party rules say that those are counted toward the total number of ballots used for the 15 percent rule.
Fisher said he was unhappy with the way the vote was done, but he was leaning against any sort of challenge.
“This is not a good day for the party,” he told The Associated Press.
Fisher, making his first run for political office, had looked to cobble together enough disaffected conservatives to force a primary against the more moderate Baker.
“You don’t have to guess where I stand on the issues,” Fisher told delegates before the vote. “You know that I am a full platform, no excuses necessary, loyal and proud conservative Republican. I am not ashamed of our state party platform.”
Fisher was referring to a socially conservative platform adopted last month by a majority of the 80-member Republican State Committee.
The platform declared that “every instance of abortion is tragic,” and advocated “policies that will assist a woman during a crisis pregnancy.”
Richard Tisei, Baker’s 2010 running mate, skipped Saturday’s convention to protest the platform. Tisei, who is gay and married, instead spent the day campaigning in the 6th congressional district, where he’s running against incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. John Tierney.
Baker, who is pro-abortion rights and supports gay marriage, distanced himself from the platform as did many other Republican leaders including party chairwoman Kirsten Hughes.
Though Patrick is not seeking re-election, Baker’s campaign has focused on the litany of problems currently saddling the Democratic administration, including a broken health care connector website, and oversight failures within the state Department of Children and Families – where social workers lost track of a 5-year-old boy now missing and presumed dead.
Baker portrayed himself as a proven manager and problem solver who would find “faster, better, cheaper ways to get things done.”
Many delegates viewed Baker as a candidate who could unite the party while appealing to independent voters who make up more than 50 percent of the state’s electorate.
Delegates also endorsed Brian Herr, a little-known selectman from Hopkinton, to run against Democratic U.S. Sen. Edward Markey in November. Karyn Polito, a former state representative from Shrewsbury, was unopposed for lieutenant governor and will run with Baker in the fall.
The party also endorsed Patricia Saint Aubin, an accountant for Norfolk, for state auditor; Mike Heffernan, of Wellesley, for state treasurer; John Miller, a Winchester attorney, for attorney general; and Dave D’Arcangelo, of Malden, for Secretary of State.