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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