If you’ve been following the news in Massachusetts, you’ve probably heard about the current Democratic caucuses set to take place during the months of January and February. For those unfamiliar with the inner workings of the political process, a caucus is a meeting between party brass and party activists to fill positions of responsibility, amend party platforms, and set long-term strategies. The process is dictated by Robert’s Rules of Order, the same used to conduct business at open town meetings, and is the first step in organizing for 2014.
However, this isn’t something only happening within the Democratic Party. As Massachusetts Democrats meet to prepare for 2014, so are their Republican counterparts.
The Charlton Republican Town Committee, the recognized local affiliate of the Massachusetts Republican Party, conducted its own caucus this past week. While the act of voting was open only to members of the Town Committee, registered Republicans were still invited to come out in attendance to mingle, get involved, and observe the process.
Alongside the official caucus was also a preference poll. Preference polls, or “straw” polls as they’re more commonly known, are informal polls used to gauge the support of a local candidate or measure. Unlike the caucus, the straw poll was open to all participants.
The voting portion of the caucus was over within 15 minutes, with the CRTC voting unanimously to send twelve delegates, including alternates and ex-officio delegates, to the March convention.
Senate hopefuls James Ehrhard and Mike Valanzola, as well as Gubernatorial hopeful Mark Fisher, were also in attendance.
James Ehrhard, a lawyer based out of the Sturbridge area, and Mike Valanzola, a Wales selectman, are facing off against each other to win the chance to run for the Worcester, Hampden, Hampshire & Middlesex District seat. Stephen Brewer (D-Barre), who’s held the seat for seven terms, is retiring in the Fall. Democratic representative Anne Gobi is also running.
Ehrhard and Valanzola, aware that it will be an uphill battle, are still confident with their campaigns. “I’m young and experienced [and] an able campaigner,” Valanzola remarked. “We’re only four and a half weeks in, and we’ve already had a phenomenal reception.” But, he acknowledges that there’s no room to get lazy. “There’s still a lot of work to be done.”
Ehrhard is also confident in the strength of his campaign, citing that 2014 is shaping to be a good environment for his prospects. “This is objectively a Republican year. […] We have good internal numbers. It really helps you know what you’re dealing with.” He also points to the recent gas tax as an important part of his running. “It’s symbolic of [Beacon Hill] having no regard for spending.”
Mark Fisher, a small business owner based out of Auburn, faces a different kind of battle. Whereas Ehrhard and Valanzola face off in a primary, Fisher’s fight is one that will be decided on the convention floor. Only with the support of 15% of the total convention delegates will Fisher be able to run in a primary against former Harvard Pilgrim CEO and 2010 Gubernatorial Candidate Charlie Baker.
Fisher, who is running as the “Tea Party” candidate, says he has already met with over 50 Republican Town Committees. “We’re confident we can pull it off.”
Addressing concerns that a primary run against Charlie Baker would weaken both candidates in the 2014 General
Election, Fisher claims the opposite. “I would make Charlie Baker a better candidate. He would make me a better candidate.”
As for his choice of a Lt. Governor candidate to balance the ticker, Fisher explained that Charlie Baker’s current pick, Karyn Polito, is “the choice of the people” and he would keep her. “Karyn Polito is [already] my running-mate, but not until after the primaries”.
As for the opinion of the people they were trying to woo, the Vice-Chairman of the CRTC. Peter Cooper, Sr. is content with whoever comes out as the Republican standard-bearer in August, so long as there’s unity. “We need to come together. There can’t be a repeat of 2012,” he said, referencing the fight between Ron Paul and Mitt Romney delegates that broke out during the last time Republicans caucused in Massachusetts.
As for the results of the straw poll, the final numbers act as a testament to the closeness of the races, with Mike Valanzola defeating James Ehrhard 54% to 46%, and Charlie Baker defeating Mark Fisher by the same margin.
The Massachusetts Republican Party State Convention will be held on March 22nd, at Boston’s Agganis Arena.