The Massachusetts Republican Party is mulling a plan to double the number of superdelegates at its April convention — a move that would give the GOP establishment considerable muscle in shaping the US Senate primary and the statewide ticket in 2018.
The proposal, which is before the GOP state committee’s rules subcommittee, would double the delegates selected by party leaders — all of them Governor Charlie Baker loyalists — from 350 to 700, or as much as one-quarter to one-third of the total delegates.
The result would boost Baker’s faction of the party by ensuring the governor, in his 2018 reelection fight, is not leading a statewide ticket with nominees who can create political havoc for him.
The scheme needs to clear the rules committee, which party insiders say it could easily do at an early September meeting. Then the proposal must gain a majority of the Baker-dominated but often fractious 80-member state committee in order to become part of the party rules.
The prospect of giving the party establishment a chance to control as much as 30 percent of the delegate vote (it depends on delegate attendance) has set off some angry words from the camp of one of the US Senate candidates, state Representative Geoff Diehl. He’s one of several Republicans seeking to challenge US Senator Elizabeth Warren in 2018 — and he’s been an irritant to the Baker-installed leadership at GOP headquarters and in the State House.
Holly Robichaud, Diehl’s chief strategist, is accusing the party pooh-bahs of trying “to take away the voice of the people.”
“The party leaders want to dictate who can be on the ballot,’’ she said. “Why even have a convention, when they can control it all?”
GOP leaders tried to downplay the notion they are seeking any role in promoting the extra clout that is being proposed for them.
But the plan would nicely protect Baker’s political interests by controlling the state Republican apparatus, promoting a moderate image for the party, and keeping the pro-Donald Trump Tea Party factions on the sidelines. Baker, in a highly unusual move by a sitting governor, financed an expensive campaign in the 2016 presidential primary to purge many of the right-leaning committee members.
It’s similarly in the Baker camp’s interest to make sure the governor is not leading a 2018 statewide ticket with nominees for other offices who could pull the ticket to the right. That effort would focus on creating a slate with a strong moderate tone.
Under the proposal, the number of delegates chosen by Chairwoman Kirsten Hughes, Baker’s hand-picked party leader, would go from 300 to 500, while the two state GOP national committee members, Ron Kaufman and state Representative Keiko M. Orrall of Lakeville (both are Baker party loyalists) would get to choose 100 each.
How exactly those officials would use their delegate power is not entirely clear.
Hughes declined to respond to Robichaud’s criticism, saying only, “This is one of dozens of member-generated proposals which will be vetted and voted upon by the eighty members of the Republican State Committee.”
Baker’s chief political adviser, Jim Conroy, rejected any suggestions that the governor’s aides are behind the move. “We were not aware of this until the Globe inquired,’’ he said. Conroy also said the governor does not have a preference in the GOP senate race.
State committeeman Gordon Andrews of Halifax, who proposed the increase in superdelegate allocation, denied his motive was political. He said he wants to allow Republicans who live in districts where there are no ward and town committee organizations to have a chance to go to the Worcester convention as a superdelegate.
“This has nothing to do with any of the races,’’ Andrews said. “I just want to give some folks in my district a chance to get to the convention.”
Diehl, who wears his pro-Trump credentials on his sleeve, is a heavy favorite at this early stage to win the party’s endorsement at the convention.
Two other major candidates who are likely to appeal to Baker’s faction — businessman John Kingston and longtime GOP activist Beth Lindstrom, both newcomers to elected politics — have a tough road ahead to get the necessary 15 percent of delegate support to qualify for the primary ballot. Each will be vying for the moderate bloc of delegates, a once dominant force at state conventions but which has become increasingly smaller in recent years.Frank Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.