Having shook Charlie’s hand at the Big E last Saturday, I now feel obliged to offer the likely Republican nominee for governor some unsolicited advice. Pay no attention to recent reports of Gabriel Gomez’s “interest” in or “receptivity to” joining your team as the Lt. Governor nominee. Republicans win gubernatorial elections by convincing voters that the state needs a talented CEO to right a sinking ship, not by playing identity politics.
Baker will have a tough fight on his hands because voters aren’t particularly upset about the way the state has been managed during Deval Patrick’s tenure. Winning will require skilled arguments (and arguers) on the stump about why things like the crime lab fiasco and Parole Board mess were symptoms of executive incompetence fostered by an administration that put partisan patronage over governing effectiveness. Does anybody really think Gomez has the wherewithal to make this case credibly and effectively on the campaign trail? Is there video tape of Gomez answering questions on the stump I’m unaware of? I remember a candidate for whom the talking points were a life jacket who looked uncomfortable with the fit.
Some will argue that Gomez’s 45% of the vote in a U.S. Senate race is clear evidence of his broad appeal and statewide electability. His “brand” has been tested and nearly half the voters bought it. Some many even bolster this line of argument by claiming that but for the greater importance of party labels in U.S. Senate campaigns, Gomez’s 45% would have easily been 50% plus; that his brand was popular enough but his party label cost him just enough votes to keep him out of the winner’s circle. This last take is tricky because it’s based on a valid point about the difference in the importance of party labels in Federal races compared to State races, but the reality is that Gabriel Gomez was a very poor candidate whose 45% of the vote wasn’t about the quality of his “brand,” nor was it earned in spite of partisanship. He got 45% because of partisanship. His vote share was actually a “false” positive. Nonetheless, some will insist that Gomez is “the future of the Republican Party” and can help Baker broaden the base, an argument that is blind to the reality that voters don’t elect “representatives” to the corner office, they elect executives.
Mr. Baker needs a Paul Cellucci, not an envoy to Hispanics or veterans or private equity guys. He needs a campaign partner that will impress voters with his or her ability to explain and own the campaign’s message, not a trophy running mate that he can dispatch to every 5K road race in the state in hopes of reminding voters that he is down to earth. That’s what the jeans and work boots he wears to things like the Big E are for.