As delegates filed into Springfield's MassMutual Center on Saturday morning for the Massachusetts GOP’s 2022 nominating convention, they were greeted by Luke Hartwell of Billerica, who was wearing a red "Make America Great Again" hat and handing out free boxes of Chuckles, a fruit-flavored candy. Each was adorned with a satirical sticker: Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, wearing a red clown's nose, next to the phrase "Adios Chuckles."

"Our party is very discontent[ed] with Baker, so we're not too sad to see him go," Hartwell, who was not a delegate, said, citing Baker's tolerance of the state's assault-weapons ban as a personal peeve.

In the 2022 governor's race, Hartwell is supporting Geoff Diehl, the former state representative from Whitman and former U.S. Senate candidate who was an early and outspoken backer of former president Donald Trump. Diehl cruised at the convention, winning more than 70 percent of the convention's delegates and the party's official endorsement. That outcome wasn’t a surprise, given Diehl's popularity with the Republican base: when Baker was still considering seeking a third term, a poll commissioned by the Democratic Governors Association showed Diehl leading Baker by a significant margin.

For the record, Hartwell isn't convinced that Diehl can actually become governor, given his unabashed conservatism in a state known for political moderates. Still, he sees the Mass. GOP's embrace of Diehl as a victory.

"I would rather have our party stand for what we believe and lose, rather than be fake," Hartwell said.

Those comments point to a defining paradox of Saturday's convention. Baker, who has been highly popular with the greater Massachusetts electorate, chose not to attend, saying the focus should be on the candidates competing to replace him. But even in absentia, he loomed large — as a political punching bag or a success story the party is foolishly failing to embrace, depending on who you ask.

A few feet away from Hartwell, delegate Wendy Hansen held a sign for Chris Doughty, the Wrentham businessman and political neophyte who has positioned himself as a moderate, more electable alternative to Diehl.

Hansen, also from Wrentham, disclosed that she considers Doughty a family friend. But aside from him being a personal acquaintance, she believes that — like Baker — Doughty has a mature, pragmatic approach to politics.

"I'm a huge supporter of Governor Baker," Hansen said. "I really appreciate politicians from both sides of the aisle who can be good at compromising, because that's what civics is. That’s what a good political system requires.

"I think if you vote for Geoff Diehl, you're ... essentially allowing Maura Healey to come into office," she added, referring to the current attorney general who is considered a frontrunner for the Democratic nomination.

Many Baker fans seemed to be gravitating to Doughty, with Baker detractors opting to back Diehl. But there were exceptions to that rule.

Heather Hedlund, a delegate from Hull, arrived at the convention wearing a Diehl T-shirt, though she counts herself among Republicans who are "generally happy" with Baker's performance as governor. But she isn't happy that he skipped the convention.

"I understand he's not running. But this is his party, and it would have been nice of him to show up," she said.

Rachel Miselman, a delegate from Boston and supporter of Doughty, has deeper criticism for Baker, saying he failed to grasp the economic and psychological consequences of restrictions aimed at mitigating the COVID pandemic. It's why she's supporting Doughty and his running mate, former State Rep. Kate Campanale, over Diehl and his running mate, former State Rep. Leah Cole Allen.

Miselman thinks the Diehl ticket lacks substance.

"With all due respect to Geoff Diehl and Leah Cole Allen, I believe what they're doing is jumping on headlines [as they campaign]," Miselman said. "And we can't do that. We need to be proactive, not reactive."

Inside the arena, a crowd of about 1,500 was largely decked out in red — showing support for Diehl, Trump, or both. A much smaller segment of delegates wore lime-green hats and shirts, indicating their support for Doughty.

In the first major development inside the convention hall, Diehl’s running mate Allen won the party’s endorsement for lieutenant governor after receiving 864 votes.

Also a licensed nurse, Allen lost her job when she refused to be vaccinated against COVID. In her convention speech, she decried Baker’s approach to COVID at length without referring to him by name. She also condemned vaccine mandates and the government classification of some businesses as non-essential. Allen specifically panned masking mandates for the state’s public schools, alleging that children “were forced to wear masks in schools long after it was determined they were not at high risk for contracting and spreading COIVD."

Campanale, Doughty’s running mate, focused on attacking Healey during her speech, and declined to discuss Baker’s legacy when approached by GBH News. Although trailing behind Allen, her 370 votes easily reached the 15 percent threshold required to make September’s primary ballot.

Doughty in his speech took sharp jabs at Baker — though he, too, chose not to use the governor's name. He suggested that Baker has talked about creating jobs rather than actually doing it, and that Baker has failed to keep the state’s budget under control.

Doughty, who recently called himself a “moderate man” on GBH’s Greater Boston, vowed “to carry our conservative flag forward [and] to lead us to victory,” despite Diehl winning over more convention delegates.

Diehl finally took the stage offering an even stronger rebuke of Baker’s tenure, referencing “power-hungry, abusive mandates” implanted during COVID. If he becomes governor, Diehl vowed, there will be “no more putting masks on kids in schools.”

Before Doughty and Diehl's speeches, as the votes for lieutenant governor were being tabulated, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr — one of a handful of elected Republicans currently serving on Beacon Hill — offered a radically different assessment of Baker’s time in office.

"He leaves a legacy of being a good manager of state government, and being able to take on the day-to-day issues that face any governor," Tarr said.

But for now, GOP delegates have chosen harder conservatism over moderation for their party's future.