That year not only drew a large number of social conservatives into political action, it also saw the widespread failure of GOP candidates for State Senate and the House. Many in the party blamed Romney and his allies, including then–party chair Darrell Crate, for recruiting candidates but not adequately supporting them.

The 2010 elections may have been the last straw. Grassroots conservatives and Tea Partiers took credit for Scott Brown's surprising victory, and then for doubling the number of Republican state representatives. But those were the only bright spots, as Democrats swept the statewide and congressional elections.

An attempt after those results to oust party chair Jennifer Nassour failed, but she ultimately resigned last year. That led to the December vote that installed Maginn — a former Bain Capital employee under Romney, and finance committee co-chair for both Romney and Brown — over the concerns of some of the grassroots conservatives.

In that showdown, 11 Republican state representatives — including 10 freshmen— endorsed Maginn's main opponent, Frank McNamara.

Meanwhile, Tea Party and other conservative organizations have been, in the view of some, offering more help to local Republicans than the state party does.

One of the most active of these groups is the Massachusetts Republican Assembly (MARA), which calls itself "the Republican wing of the Republican party." MARA endorsed 36 candidates for state committee, 17 of whom won — including 14 new members. And four MARA board members are now on the MassGOP state committee.

Many of these organizations are not shy about their very strong conservative rhetoric — which puts them at odds with those who believe Republicans need to tone it down in Massachusetts.

The front page of one newer site, votecorevalues.org (VCV), for example, refers to the president as "Barack Hussein Obama, Abortionist-in-Chief."

VCV president Lonnie Brennan argues that the turnover in the state committee was not driven primarily by ideology, but by a desire to press the party to devote resources to local and regional elections, and not just to the big statewide races.

Nevertheless, questionnaires filled out by state committee candidates and posted by VCV show at least some very strong conservative opinions. Most of the incumbents and moderate candidates did not participate, but a dozen of the newly elected committee members, and several returning members, did. They all expressed opposition to same-sex marriage, and benefits of any kind for undocumented immigrants. Asked when a woman should be able to abort her pregnancy, all but one replied: "never." Several marked that they agree that homosexuality is "a disordered orientation."

Yet another committee member, Anthony Ventresca of Billerica, is a "birther" who questions Obama's legitimacy to hold office. These are not the genteel Brahmin Rockefeller Republicans of days gone by.

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NEW DIVIDES

They are also not as old, or as rich, as has been the norm. Republican insiders believe the current divide is as much about generational and class differences as issues.

Among the newly elected are 19-year-old Michael Cowett, a junior at Harvard, and 23-year-old Bridgewater State student Horace Mello Jr. Others, like Barstow, are in their 30s; they join other Gen-Yers, such as Brock Cordeiro, on the committee.

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