WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) — Scott Lively, a staunchly conservative Springfield pastor and supporter of President Donald Trump collected enough support from delegates to the Republican state convention Saturday to mount a primary challenge against moderate Gov. Charlie Baker, who has distanced himself from the president.
Nearly 28 percent of the delegates backed Lively, a stronger-than-expected showing against Baker, who’s consistently shown by polls to be one of the nation’s most popular governors. Baker enjoys support from independents and even many Democrats in Massachusetts.
Candidates needed at least 15 percent of the convention vote to continue their campaigns, and it was unclear before the gathering if Lively could achieve that threshold.
While Baker easily won the convention endorsement with nearly 70 percent of the vote, his campaign had largely ignored Lively and had hoped to avoid a September primary contest for the party’s nomination.
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In the U.S. Senate contest, state Rep. Geoff Diehl, an early Trump supporter who served as co-chair of his Massachusetts campaign, was endorsed by the convention with 55 percent of the vote.
Beth Lindstrom, who served in the cabinet of former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, and John Kingston, a business executive who in 2016 led an unsuccessful effort to recruit an independent candidate to run against Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, both got enough votes to set up a three-way primary. The winner will face Democratic U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren in November.
The votes highlight the tension within the state party between Trump backers and moderates like Baker, who has said he did not vote for Trump in the 2016 election — leaving his ballot from president blank — and as governor has frequently criticized administration policies.
Lively called himself a “full-spectrum Republican” and urged delegates during a fiery speech to vote their conscience. At one point he asked security to remove a delegate whom Lively said was heckling him. The person was not removed.
“I’m 100 percent pro-life. I’m 100 percent Second Amendment. I stand on the original intent of the constitution. I’m 100 percent pro-Trump,” Lively said.
The minister has expressed anti-LGBT sentiments and received notoriety for being sued by an East African advocacy group that accused him of waging a campaign to persecute gays in Uganda. He also co-authored a book espousing a theory that gay men heavily influenced Germany’s Nazi party.
Baker supports abortion rights and gay marriage and signed legislation allowing transgender people to use public bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity.
“There is no place and no point in public life, in any life, for a lot of the things Scott Lively says and believes,” Baker said after the vote. “And that’s why I’m pleased that seven of 10 delegates at the convention chose us as their nominee.”
Baker said he did not want to speculate why more than a quarter of the delegates rejected him and would not say whether he would debate Lively.
Lively said he may have been guilty of “hyperbole,” in previous comments and intended to do “fence-mending” with the LGBT community. He also said he intends to invite Trump to Massachusetts to campaign for him.
Asked how his thinly-funded campaign would compete with Baker, who has nearly $8 million in his campaign account, Lively said: “The Lord will provide.”
Party officials tried to steer delegates away from disagreements over Trump and toward agreement on unseating Warren in November.
Massachusetts GOP chairwoman Kirsten Hughes accused Warren of hypocrisy and looking out for her own self-interests, alluding to speculation that Warren might seek the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
“Let’s send her back to Harvard Yard,” said Hughes, referring to Warren’s previous job as a Harvard law professor.
Arthur Carpenito, 63, said he backed Lively because Baker leans too Democratic on many issues, particularly the governor’s support for abortion rights laws.
“He’s not at all pro-life. That’s a big issue,” said Carpenito, who along with a number of delegates wore a Trump-inspired hat with the slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
Donnarose Russian, 59, a delegate from Arlington, carried a “women for Baker” sign and praised Baker for his bipartisan approach.
“As a Republican I care about everyone and I think Charlie has that same kind of feeling,” she said, adding she was so disgusted by Lively’s speech she left the floor during it.
A pair of attorneys from Cape Cod, Jay McMahon and Dan Shores, received enough votes to qualify for the primary ballot and a chance to oppose Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey in November.