Mass. Governor Charlie Baker.

Credit: Charles Krupa/AP

Could Restlessness On The Right Put Charlie Baker At Risk?

August 9, 2017

Geoff Diehl’s recent US Senate campaign kickoff featured a sumptuous buffet, some sharp jabs at Democrat Elizabeth Warren, an awkward balloon drop — and an abundance of skepticism about Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker.

"He hasn’t impressed me," Nellie Geribo of Abington said of Baker.

 "I don’t think he’s conservative enough," said Paula Deegan of Raynham. "He's too liberal for me." 

"I didn’t like the way he was bad-mouthing Trump," said Marie Oser of Roslindale. 

A recent Morning Consult poll put Baker’s approval rating at 71 percent, the highest of any U.S. governor. But among Massachusetts conservatives, the picture is different.

And as Baker ramps up his re-election bid, the rumbles of dissatisfaction that were evident in Whitman are making Republican activist and commentator Ed Lyons nervous.

"You know, maybe this isn’t going to go the way that people think," Lyons, who also hosts the Lincoln Review podcast, says of Baker's upcoming re-election bid. 

For the record, Lyons is a Republican moderate. He served on Baker's transition team and fervently hopes the governor wins re-election.

But recently, in a Medium essay, Lyons outlined a scenario he believes could cost Baker his job.

It goes something like this. First, inspired by Donald Trump, the state GOP tacks right, nominating an aggressively conservative candidate who ends up boosting Democratic turnout.

"That candidate could also force Baker to constantly be answering to a version of Republicanism he doesn’t subscribe to," Lyons says. "More people badgering him: ''Do you agree with this? Do you agree with that?'"

Meanwhile, Massachusetts Attorney General and progressive darling Maura Healey decides she'll run for governor after all. And after landing the Democratic nomination, she makes the race a referendum on the president.

When the votes are in, Baker loses by a whisker.

"When Charlie Baker was elected [in 2014], it’s because everything went his way," Lyons says. "The fundraising, the late primary, Martha Coakley not being seen as attractive, there were a lot of things that played in Charlie Baker's favor. And he barely won.

"People assume, because [Baker] has high polling numbers, that they’ll vote for him. But what if they don’t?"

If they don't, Lonnie Brennan could be one reason why. Brennan publishes the Boston Broadside, which calls itself New England’s only mass-distributed non-liberal newspaper and doesn't hold the governor in high regard.

"I’ll take the blame for printing the picture of Charlie Baker’s face on the chicken," Brennan says, asked about an illustration in the Broadside's current issue.

Elaborating on his rationale, Brennan cites Baker's stance on Second Amendment issues and handling of the controversial Justina Pelletier case.

"He kind of ducks out of a lot of issues," Brennan says.

In 2018, Brennan predicts, that approach will have consequences.

"I think a lot of the conservatives are going to say, 'There’s no reason for me to vote for you. You don’t represent my values,'" Brennan predicts. "Right now, I think a lot of them will just sit home."

But Brennan also says he can’t imagine Baker actually losing. In addition, he scoffs at the idea that someone like Diehl could hurt Baker's chances, and cites Diehl's leadership of a ballot initiative that overturned automatic increases to the state's gas tax to make his case. 

"[Diehl is] the grassroots guy, the guy who’s gotten Democrats, Independents and Republicans on his side," Brennan says. "Tank the Gas Tax? [That was] Geoff Diehl."

Also not fretting: Keiko Orrall, the state representative and Republican National Comitteewoman — even though she says conservative discontent with Baker is real.

"In the communities that voted for Donald Trump, that does seem to be more of a refrain," Orrall admits.

But come 2018, she predicts, voters of all stripes will conclude that with Baker in the Corner Office, Massachusetts politics have actually become a model for the nation.

"Our governor is working across the aisle," Orrall says. "And that’s what people want to see."

For Baker, that’s the best-case scenario. It may even be the most probable.

But in this unusual political moment, the probable scenario doesn't always come to pass.


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