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Capital Source

Charlie Baker escalates feud with GOP conservatives

Charlie Baker spoke to reporters earlier this month.
Charlie Baker spoke to reporters earlier this month.Keith Bedford/Globe staff/Globe Staff

Republican Governor Charlie Baker, after his party committee slate won a majority last week, is widening his confrontation with conservative activists, taking aim at the state’s national GOP committeewoman.

Baker is publicly backing state Representative Keiko Orrall over Chanel Prunier, who has held the national committee post since 2013, in an election that will take place next month. In an email to state committee members on Sunday announcing her candidacy, Orrall trumpeted the support of Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito.

The governor, who encouraged Orrall to run, made a round of calls over the weekend, congratulating the victorious state committee candidates, several party officials said.

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Prunier — who has contributed to Baker’s, Polito’s and Orrall’s political committees — represents the party’s more conservative wing, with which Baker shares an uneasy relationship. Some on the party’s right flank have accused Baker of attempting to co-opt the state party by replacing them with more moderate committee members.

In the GOP presidential primary, Baker also backed a more establishment-friendly candidate, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, only to watch him drop out of the race days later and then endorse front-runner Donald J. Trump.

Orrall, a third-term Lakeville Republican, said in her email to committee members, “We need leaders on our state committee that are willing to bridge divides and build consensus among all of the constituencies within the Republican party. As a conservative, a state legislator, an Asian-American, and a mother, I have the experience we need to continue growing our great party. As your National Committeewoman, I will be a fresh conservative voice, bringing diversity, energy, and enthusiasm that will help beat the Democrats in November.”

Describing herself as “socially conservative,” Orrall said in a telephone interview Monday night that she had conversations with party leaders “over a year ago” about running for the committee seat.

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Asked if the Baker-Polito administration represented conservative values, Orrall replied, “No, I think the governor’s made his positions clear, but I’m someone who can work with all kinds of people.”

Prunier, in an emailed statement, said, “Our state committee is very fractured and we need to get back to bringing the two sides together to oppose the Democrats in 2016.”

Prunier went on, “Rep. Orrall is a great legislator, but will not be able to represent both sides of the Republican committee. It’s clear the electorate, in MA and beyond, is very split as well. It’s important for the MassGOP to bring anti-establishment voices to the table, rather than being publicly perceived as casting them out of the Party.”

State party chairwoman Kirsten Hughes, who said she was not formally backing either candidate, said of Orrall, “Sounds like a pretty ground-breaking female to be our national committeewoman from Massachusetts, if you ask me.”

Hughes added, “I’ve worked cooperatively with Chanel, as well.”

Charles V. Grillo Jr., a Trump supporter who won a state committee seat last week, said Baker called him Sunday afternoon. Grillo said he would wait to hear from party activists in his district before deciding between Prunier and Orrall.

The newly elected GOP state committee will vote on the national committeeman and woman on April 5 in Quincy.


Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at jim.osullivan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JOSreports.