Baker, Polito decision surprises some political observers

  • FILE - Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker speaks during a Juneteenth commemoration in Boston's Nubian Square, June 18, 2021. Baker announced Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021 that he won't seek a third term as governor of Massachusetts. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File) Elise Amendola

  • Karyn Polito, Lieutenant Governor, speaks during an event recognizing the completion of the ComCast broadband build out in Worthington on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021.

  • FILE - In this Aug. 1, 2016 file photo, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker smiles with Lt. Gov. Karen Polito, left, after he signed a bill into law at the Statehouse in Boston. Elise Amendola

Staff Writer
Published: 12/1/2021 7:26:45 PM
Modified: 12/1/2021 7:26:12 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Wednesday’s announcement by Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito that they won’t be running for governor in 2022 has transformed the landscape of next year’s gubernatorial election.

“The campaign started today,” said Tatishe Nteta, associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Nteta is a director for the UMass Amherst/WCVB Poll, and he said that Baker’s popularity, particularly among many typically Democratic voters, would have made the Republican favored in next year’s election, with the poll last putting his approval rating at 56%.

At the same time, Nteta said that the norm in Massachusetts is for governors to serve no more than two terms, with no governor having been elected three consecutive times.

“In that sense, it’s not surprising,” he said.

At the same time, Nteta expressed surprise that Polito is not running, as he said it seems she was groomed for the position.

“That, to me, is actually the more shocking development,” he said.

Nteta said Polito may have decided against seeking the governorship because she feared a Republican primary, or a matchup with Attorney General Maura Healey

Healey has not formally entered the governor’s race, but Nteta said signs point to the Democratic attorney general throwing her hat into the ring.

“She’s been taking a wait-and-see approach,” he said. “She’s been angling to run for this position.”

So far, on the Democratic side, state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, D-Boston, former state senator Ben Downing, and Danielle Allen, a Harvard professor, have all entered the race.

On the Republican side, only former state representative Geoff Diehl has declared his candidacy for governor.

Matt Szafranski, editor in chief of Western Mass Politics and Insight, said he was “not surprised” at Baker’s decision, saying that there has been a sense for some time that eight years was enough for the governor.

He also said that while he thinks Baker would have won a primary against Diehl, it would have been an “awful” experience for him. He also said that he thought that Polito saw unfavorable GOP primary polling in coming to her decision.

State Rep. Kelly Pease, R-Westfield, said that “it’s going to hurt,” when informed of Baker and Polito’s decisions.

Pease said he thought that Baker might have had a hard time in the primary but would have prevailed in the general election. And while he said he’s more conservative than Baker, Pease said that Baker’s a good match for the state.

Charley Rose, a Worthington Select Board member, is a Democrat, but he voted for Baker in the last election, noting that Baker was probably the first Republican he’s voted for in his entire life.

Rose credited Baker with running his administration in a way that was helpful to small towns, and for shepherding through broadband infrastructure to completion.

“Baker was absolutely a friend of small towns,” he said.

At the same time, Rose said that he thought Baker “screwed up the rollout of the vaccine” and that he would have backed Downing against Baker should Baker have run again.

“He’s my guy at the moment,” Rose said, speaking of Downing. “He was super helpful when he was in the Senate.”

Downing represented Worthington and much of western Massachusetts when he was a state senator, although the Democratic gubernatorial candidate now lives in East Boston.

Rose did note, however, that if Healey enters the race he will consider her as well.

Andrew Brow owns HighBrow Wood Fired Kitchen + Bar in Northampton. He said Baker would have gotten his vote if he’d run again, and described the governor as “quite a Democratic Republican.” He also praised Baker’s handling of the pandemic.

“I think he handled it really aggressively,” he said.

As for what he’s looking for in the next governor, Brow said he’s looking for one who’s “progressive and kind and fair” as well as pro-business and pro-worker.

State Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, threw her support behind Chang-Diaz in the governor’s race well before Baker’s announcement.

“Sonia is definitely a political wonk,” Sabadosa said.

She said she’s also backing her for attention to detail and coalition-building skill.

Sabadosa said it’s interesting that Polito isn’t running, saying the lieutenant governor has raised a substantial amount of money.

She also said that a Democratic governor would be able to set the wheels in motion for single-payer health care in Massachusetts.

Szafranski said that, aside from Healey, he doesn’t see many people who haven’t yet declared having the ability to mount a successful Democratic run, given that caucuses will start in February.

“It’s going to be very hard for anyone other than Maura Healey to get into the race now,” he said.

Two other people who Szafranski did say could mount a challenge at this point and haven’t declared are former congressman Joe Kennedy III and former Boston mayor Marty Walsh, now secretary of labor in the Biden administration.

“There’s a sense now that the (Democratic) primary could be tantamount to election,” he said.

For his part, Nteta said that the directions of the Republican and Democratic parties in the state will be determined in the governor’s race.

“We’re going to have a really interesting election,” he said.

State Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, said he was not expecting the news.

“I was surprised to hear that the governor was not actually seeking a third term,” he said. “And I was borderline shocked that the lieutenant governor isn’t running for lieutenant governor or governor – a major surprise.”

Mark said his shock is the result of Baker’s continued popularity. But Mark recognized Baker’s tenure has included two years of a global pandemic and suggested this extraordinary circumstance may have influenced the governor’s decision.

“I respect that,” Mark said.

The Democrat said he wishes Baker’s platform and policies would have been a bit bolder and more progressive but he acknowledged the governor did well in working with a Democrat-controlled Legislature.

“I think functionally he did a pretty good job,” Mark said. “I think when it came to just managing the day-to-day affairs of the state, he worked with the Legislature.”

He said Baker dealt with a lot of backlash within his own party for his criticism of former President Donald Trump.

Mark, who said he has no gubernatorial aspirations of his own, said Baker’s decision is an excellent opportunity to once again get a Democrat into the governor’s mansion and to get more progressive legislation passed, with the chance of a veto less likely.

State Rep. Susannah Whipps, I-Athol, said she “wasn’t terribly surprised by today’s announcement,” having heard whispers about Baker’s decision. She said “COVID has really kicked everybody’s butt” and the governor’s announcement means he and Polito will be able to focus, without the distraction of a re-election campaign, on handling the billions of federal dollars coming into the state as pandemic relief money.

A Republican until 2017, Whipps is now the only independent in the Massachusetts Legislature. She said she supported and voted for Baker in 2010, when he ran unsuccessfully for governor, in 2014, when he won the gubernatorial race, and in 2018, when he was re-elected.

“And I would have been a Charlie Baker supporter in 2022, also,” she said.

Whipps described the governor as a charismatic and kind man who called Whipps to check on her mother in her dying days.

“I have nothing but respect for Governor Baker,” she said. “I appreciate him and I appreciate the difficulty of the position he’s in.”

State Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, has not yet backed anyone for governor, although she is supporting state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, for lieutenant governor.

“Excellent people are already in the race,” she said.

Comerford also said that she’s looking for the next governor and lieutenant governor to understand the unique challenges and assets of western Massachusetts.

Staff Writer Dominic Poli contributed reporting to this story. 

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