Charlie Baker wins GOP endorsement, but Tea Party rival may qualify for the ballot

Charlie Baker won a strong endorsement from party activists Saturday, but may have failed in his effort to oust a Tea Party rival from the primary ballot.

Ballots were stil being counted after 5 pm.

“We’re not going to know for at least another hour,” a Baker adviser said Saturday night.

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It appeared Mark Fisher, the Tea Party candidate, may have qualified for the ballot by the slimmest of margins. If he clears the 15 percent threshold, it would surprise party insiders who assumed he would be knocked off the ballot.

Fisher’s presence on the ballot could also prevent the party from unleashing a full-throttled attack on Democrats in the coming months.

Prior to the vote, both candidates appealed to delegates, saying change on Beacon Hill is critical.

“We need leaders on Beacon Hill who understand that someone else’s sweat and effort produces every dollar they get to spend,” Baker said, hitting a sweet-spot criticism that the Democrat-run state government spends wastefully.

“We all know their answer to everything: more government, more spending, more taxing, more regulation, more bureaucracy, and more power,” Baker said. “Well, I believe in more, too. How about more liberty?”

Fisher in his speech denounced the “big tent view” of party strategy.

“I’m not ashamed of our state party platform. I’m not running away from it. I’m standing on every plank of it.”

The state committee recently voted to adopt a new platform that frowns on gay marriage and abortion.

In the hours before the final vote, Baker surrounded himself with women from his campaign, professional career, and personal life in a direct appeal to women voters. His running mate, former state representative Karyn Polito, accepted the party endorsement with a largely autobiographical speech that still took time to blame Democrats for the state’s 6.5 percent unemployment rate.

“It’s proof that one-party rule has damaged our economy,” the Shrewsbury Republican said in her acceptance speech.

Mary Ann Tocio, who sat on the board of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care when Baker was its CEO, said she “frankly didn’t recognize” the Baker who unsuccessfully challenged Governor Deval Patrick in 2010. Tocio repeatedly blamed the media for portraying Baker as “angry,” a depiction Baker advisers acknowledge hamstrung him with female voters.

“In the last go-round, Charlie didn’t resonate with women voters,” Tocio said.

In a WBUR poll taken after the 2010 election, Baker lagged with women by 24 points.

Baker and Polito said on Saturday that they were comfortable appearing at a convention whose platform contains anti-gay marriage, anti-abortion elements with which they disagree. Richard Tisei, Baker’s 2010 running mate and a congressional candidate this year, opted to boycott the convention over those social-issue planks.

“I would bet that almost nobody at this convention supports everything that’s in the platform,” Baker told reporters after the breakfast.

Democrats used the occasion to seek to tie Baker to the party’s more conservative elements. In a fundraising email sent Saturday afternoon, Attorney General Martha Coakley’s campaign manager, Tim Foley, said, “Charlie Baker’s Republican party? They’re celebrating their conservative views on equality and women’s rights-- views that would move our state backward.”

The nominating convention is the state party’s first since its erstwhile leader, former governor Mitt Romney, lost the 2012 presidential election. Even in a hall with longtime Romney backers, the party appeared intent on turning the page.

As party officials gaveled in the convention, a video on the Agganis Arena Jumbotron showed images of President Obama’s victory over Romney.

“America sent a message,” read text on the screen, followed by footage of Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus promising to seek a new direction for the GOP.