WORCESTER — Massachusetts Democrats, who met here Saturday for their annual convention, are so sore over losing their last campaign, they are barely even talking about the next one.
President Trump came in for a beating from the elected Democrats who took the stage at the DCU Center. Governor Charlie Baker, whom some Democrats hope to unseat next year, was hardly mentioned: None of the six statewide elected officials who addressed the convention targeted the governor.
The party’s delegates, who generally skew left of the party’s mainstream, approved what state Senate President Stanley Rosenberg lauded as “the most progressive Democratic Party platform” in the country.
Delegates heard from the three candidates hoping to unseat Baker next year. Each of them – former governor Deval Patrick’s administration budget chief Jay Gonzalez, environmental activist and entrepreneur Robert K. Massie, and Newton Mayor Setti Warren – swiped at the governor.
But much of the day was spent bashing Trump, a reliable applause line.
“Donald Trump is uniting the Democratic Party in a way it has not been united in a generation,” said US Senator Edward J. Markey.
US Senator Elizabeth Warren, noting that anti-Trump activists had turned out in droves for marches and demonstrations since his election, said, “I know it’s been a long, tough year for Massachusetts Democrats, and for Democrats all across the country. I know many people are tired. I know many people are angry. … You’ve probably spent more money on posterboard in the past four months than the rest of your life combined.”
US Representative James McGovern, welcoming the more than 3,000 delegates to his hometown, ripped Trump as “self-obsessed” and an “embarrassment.” Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty said Trump’s budget “hurts the elderly, the disabled, and the working poor.”
Insiders acknowledge their party is at a crossroads, lacking a clear leader at the state level and largely at a loss for how to decisively confront Baker, routinely ranked in polls as the nation’s most popular governor.
The lack of attention paid the governor, echoing last year’s convention, underscores the challenge facing a party that has control of most of the state’s other levers of political authority. Democrats have grown frustrated with their elected officials, many of whom shy from criticizing Baker. Neither Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh nor House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who have frequently praised the governor, addressed the convention. Walsh addressed a delegate breakfast before the convention gaveled to order Saturday.
Markey, Warren, Secretary of State William F. Galvin, Attorney General Maura Healey, Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, and Auditor Suzanne Bump all refrained from taking on the governor. Later pressed by reporters about Baker’s job performance, Warren pivoted to criticizing national Republicans.
But party officials said they were encouraged by an influx of new delegates — more than 1,500 — many of them energized by opposition to Trump.
State party chairman Gus Bickford appeared eager to go on the attack, ripping Baker as an absentee governor.
“Someday, I expect to find Governor Baker’s face on the side of a milk carton,” said Bickford.
“He’s scared,” Bickford said of Baker. “He’s afraid to face his constituents and answer for his failures and unwillingness to confront the worst president in our nation’s history.”
Bickford also credited Democrats for Baker’s decision to sign onto a policy position that counters Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris global climate-change accord.
Still licking its wounds from the national party’s defeat at the hands of Trump last November and the state-level loss to Baker two years before that, the party is also dealing with internal fissures. Vestiges of US Senator Bernie Sanders’s organization against Hillary Clinton in last year’s Democratic presidential primary pushed unsuccessfully Saturday to make changes to internal party rules.
Party officials said that more than 30 percent of the convention delegates were new, reflecting an uptick in grass-roots energy. In a non-election year, the “issues convention” did not give delegates a chance to vote on their three gubernatorial candidates.
Many party delegates appeared underwhelmed with their current options. But the candidates set about the task of differentiating themselves.
Gonzalez took the most direct aim at Baker, peppering him with criticism of the state budget, transportation system, opioid crisis, and “patronage.”
“It is easy to be popular when you don’t do anything, when you never take a stand,” Gonzalez said.
Massie, in a colorful speech that spoke of the “legitimate rage of working and middle-class families,” won chunks of the crowd over with a call-and-response cadence. He ran through a host of progressive goals he said would not be accomplished under Baker.
“We can move into a bold and progressive future, but not with Charlie Baker,” Massie said.
Warren, the Newton mayor, vowed “the biggest grass-roots campaign in Massachusetts history.”
“I’m challenging Charlie Baker, but I’m also here … to challenge my own party,” he said.
“Each of you and our elected officials, don’t accept Charlie’ Baker’s idea that just getting to next year’s budget is the best we can do. Don’t hesitate to say clearly, ‘We need new revenue.’”
In response to Democrats’ criticism, state GOP spokesman Terry MacCormack said in an e-mail, “Their hyperpartisan rhetoric and calls for irresponsible immigration policies that make us less safe stand in stark contrast to Governor Baker’s record of bipartisan success.”
Much of the action came at the end of the more than six-hour convention. A controversial effort to amend the party platform with language about “peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians,” saying that “Israel’s settlements in the occupied territories are obstacles to peace,” was ruled out of order because it addressed foreign policy. Many delegates loudly objected.
Efforts, backed by some of the Sanders forces, to expand the number of committee seats and lower the threshold for amending the party charter both failed.
Richard Hughes, a first-time Somerville delegate who spoke in favor of adding delegates, declined to say which Democrat he backed last year, and hoped the proposal would pick up grass-roots momentum in coming years.
“We felt it was important to bring it up for a vote,” Hughes said.
Delegates added planks to their platform arguing against for-profit prisons and candidates accepting political contributions from fossil-fuel companies, and in favor of making Election Day a state holiday and creating an independent redistricting commission.