Charlie Baker 2.0

“[A]nd as corny as it may sound” — a direct quote from a really corny announcement video – Republican Charlie Baker has announced that he is again a candidate for governor. (Come to think of it he didn’t announce that he is a Republican candidate. I imagine that will come up). In any case the rollout, which continues with press availabilities today, has had some telling signs. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting the candidate on a couple of occasions in the past year, including his generous visit to my Massachusetts Politics class at UMass Boston. So what can we expect from this authentically uncorny candidate?

First, the video establishes that Baker is a good family man and someone with deep roots in Massachusetts (but since Governor Dukakis all of our elected governors except the late son-of-Hudson Paul Cellucci were blow-ins who attended fair Harvard). So as corny as it sounds Baker says he wants to be governor because he cares about family and community. For those looking for the hard edged Baker of 2010, that might be a change. But his caring for community came across loud and clear in his visit to UMass Boston, where he impressed for his passion – yes passion – for the less well-off. Caring about the people of this state isn’t a manufactured slogan for Baker.

In the video Baker says he wants a “growing economy” “great schools” “vibrant communities for our cities and towns” “and communities and neighborhoods that are safe.” Also motherhood and apple pie – but look at the safety rhetoric. Even though former Governor Bill Weld is apparently advising Baker, we get none of the “joys of busting rocks” talk that made Weld the tough on crime candidate of a generation ago.

How might we reach those lofty goals you might ask, and so does Baker. His answer is “First, let’s rise above the politics. Here’s an idea: bipartisan leadership focused on growing our economy.” See, I told you we’d get to the Republican part. Just hypothetically let’s concoct a political scenario where a tall good looking family man native of Massachusetts is an incumbent US senator and also measurably one of the most bipartisan officials in Washington. But he gets beaten badly for re-election while still rated as the most popular politician in the state. He happens to be a Republican. You see the problem.

Then on to the biography – success in state government and at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, but I find this line appealing: “By listening and inspiring people to work together we can do great things.” That is exactly the message Baker was preaching to my students a year ago, when no cameras were rolling, when he was teaching working class students about what it takes to be a leader and a success. I often look at campaigns as passing off consultant driven drivel, but that claim comes across as the real Baker.

Baker finishes up with a nice story about his grandfather, apparently an incurable optimist who bet his young grandson that the woeful Red Sox would win the American League pennant in 1967. And they did. So there you cynical political science professors, the underdog can win in Massachusetts!

As for other aspects of the rollout, Baker is said to have made concerted efforts to reach out to Democrats. A lot of political elites who believed ‘if there’s a God in heaven Charlie Baker will be governor’ abandoned him in 2010. But there was an incumbent Democrat then.

Another aspect of the rollout has been a number of people who know Baker well attesting that he is likeable and not the cardboard cut out right winger some perceived in 2010.  I’m far from someone who knows him well but my off campus chat with him did involve a Guinness at the legendary River Gods in Cambridge. If it comes down to the old ‘who would you rather have a beer with’ test Baker could win big.



About Maurice T. Cunningham

Maurice T. Cunningham is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He teaches courses in American government including Massachusetts Politics, The American Presidency, Catholics in Political Life, The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, American Political Thought, and Public Policy. His book Maximization, Whatever the Cost: Race, Redistricting and the Department of Justice examines the role of the DOJ in requiring states to maximize minority voting districts in the Nineties. He has published articles dealing with the role of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts politics and on party politics in the state. His research interests focus upon the changing political culture of Massachusetts.
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9 Responses to Charlie Baker 2.0

  1. Pingback: Headlines for Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013 » MASSterList

  2. Tim Wing says:

    Ask him about his treatment of people with mental illness when he was Secretary of A & F and they were closing Danvers State. Not a lot of “listening and inspiring” there.

    • Maurice T. Cunningham says:

      Tim, good to hear from you. He’ll be answering a lot of questions in the next 14 months, you can launch that one at him.

  3. Tim says:

    Interesting personal story from the other night. Someone I know who works at one of the major universities in the area was telling me that several of the big universities in Texas especially University of Texas in Austin are launching raids on the Boston universities essentially trying to steal academics with better pay and working conditions(i.e. brand new offices and labs). It is quite intensive especially in the bio medicine area. My friend is a strong progressive and hardly a supporter of Gov. Rick Perry or Texas Republicans so I largely believe its accuracy. She actually went down University of Texas in Austin quite recently and was stunned at the level of expansion and new construction.

    This could very well be an area Charlie Baker might wish to explore. PS. This includes both MIT and Harvard as institutions that are being “raided.”

  4. Maurice T. Cunningham says:

    Tim if you are suggesting UTexas could steal me away, my loyalties to Massachusetts are unshakeable.

    How big did you say the offices were? And the salaries?

    If they toss in a Mavericks concert at Stubbs Barbecue, I might at least listen.

    • Tim says:


      On a more serious note the two things that in my mind that killed Charlie Baker off the last time around even among some Republicans were the following: A big Herald expose of Baker lavish campaign spending months before election day(Baker went through an absolute pile of money trying to get elected) and Baker’s use of Massport booze cruise planner and unregistered lobbyist Sandy Tennant as a fundraiser.

      I feel really bad about Sandy Tennant(laughing). I have a feeling that Baker won’t be associated with him this time around but Tennant is one of those larger than life made in Massachusetts figures that makes state politics so great. So I hope he doesn’t completely fall out of media and political coverage. Its too bad that so many newcomers to state in the last ten years weren’t around in 1999 when the Booze Cruise story broke.

      I will also note that since the last gubernatorial election Peter Blute now has a leadership position in the Mass GOP as part of his political resurrection.

  5. Maurice T. Cunningham says:

    Ah Gidget we hardly knew ye.

    I thought two things that went against Baker last time were the Big Dig stories as they undercut his claim as a superb manager. At the same time several news stories in 2010 suggested that Governor Patrick is a good manager. Some subsequent events might have been more damaging. The second thing is I thought Brown’s victory threw Baker off. Is the energy coming from the Tea Party, or should the emphasis be on a Baker who is far from a populist? Maybe that is what Baker means when he says he wasn’t himself in that race. I guess we’ll see the real Charlie this time out and the real guy is pretty impressive.

  6. Tim says:

    One more thing I’ll add is that if you read some of the more conservative NY/NJ political organs(like the Manhattan Institute or City Journal) there is definitely a lot more positive sentiment towards Massachusetts Republicans than towards their own NY/NJ Republicans. In particular Bill Weld is singled out on many occasions as being more of a “real” Republican on fiscal issues and governance than Rudy Giuliani, George Pataki, or Christie Todd Whitman. Welducci policies such as agency mergers, abolishment of county government(Remember the Metropolitan Police), 1994 Question 9 elimination of rent control, and the defeat of 1992 progressive income tax ballot initiative are all cited quite favorably by many NY/NJ Republicans(who still seem to be angry at Pataki and Whitman for not doing likewise).

    Of course there is always a bit of apples and oranges qualities to these issues. Rent control even pre 1994 in MA was a lot smaller in scope than rent control in NYC of today. The elimination of county government original occurred in Connecticut way back in 1960 so that wasn’t that new of an idea. Plus the administration AND the funding for a lot things done by the state govt in MA in NY State comes under the purview of counties and NYC. I even once saw that Bill Bratton’s return to the Boston Police in 1992(leaving behind the Dinkins era crime wave) cited as an example of better government in Massachusetts.

    I do think if New York City elects a very liberal mayor this fall there will definitely be a lot of New York Republicans hoping for a Conservative Massachusetts governor next year as a counterpoint.(Note: Chris Christie is considered by these people to be from the Pataki/Whitman school of politics on fiscal and economic issues)

  7. Maurice T. Cunningham says:

    Tim, you are a political encyclopedia. Thanks for the comments.

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