The governor faced increasing resistance from the Republican Party’s conservative base
The Massachusetts Republican Party was dealt a pair of blows last week: one imminently catastrophic and the other more a sign of the GOP’s bleak future in the commonwealth.
The big news came Wednesday when Republican Gov. Charlie Baker announced that he will not seek reelection in 2022.
Baker, along with Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, who had long been considered a potential heir, said that the administration’s focus would need to be on the pandemic over the next year and not campaigning.
“It was a very complicated and difficult decision for a number of reasons,” Baker said during the announcement. “Focusing on campaigning and focusing on politics and focusing on all the things that come with that, while certainly appropriate and necessary for anybody who chooses to run in 2022, just seemed to us like a big step away from what we should be focused on.”
Despite taking some modest hits to his popularity through the past year, Baker had continually received high marks from Democrats and independents as a Republican governor in a deep blue state. But he faced increasing resistance from the Republican Party’s conservative base.
Geoff Diehl, former state rep and 2018 GOP candidate for US Senate launched a primary challenge from Baker’s right in July, and earned the endorsement of former President Donald Trump in October.
“While I have often differed on policy with this administration, I have always liked Charlie Baker and Karyn Polito personally and I wish them the best in their future endeavors,” Diehl said in a statement. “I am honored and gratified to have been endorsed by former President Donald Trump to be the next governor of Massachusetts, and I look forward to a spirited campaign presenting my vision for the future of Massachustts.”
Democrats called Baker’s decision a “takeover” by the rightwing core of the Republican Party.
“Charlie Baker was pushed out of office by his own Party which has completely adopted the tactics and policies of Donald Trump,” Democratic Party Chair Gus Bickford said. “The MassGOP’s hand-picked candidate for Governor, Geoff Diehl, is a Trump loyalist whose extreme politics match the hate and divisiveness peddled by the national Republican Party.”
The MassGOP now faces an increasingly overwhelming likelihood of being completely shut out of government. Right now, Diehl has a clear path to the Republican nomination. Even if a reputable moderate candidate jumped in the race, there are few who have built as strong a connection with conservative voters in Mass over the past election cycle as Diehl. In a three-way race, Diehl won the 2018 Republican primary with well over half the vote.
Winning the primary won’t be a massive challenge for Diehl at this point. Winning the general is a different matter. He was thumped by Elizabeth Warren in his failed senate bid, winning just 36% of the vote.
Picking up a 15-point swing over the course of one election cycle is a tall order for Diehl and the Republicans. But MassDems are coming off one of their most stinging rebuttals in decades when it comes to the governorship.
Jay Gonzalez lost to Baker in a landslide in 2018. And while the moderate Baker narrowly defeated Martha Coakley in 2014 after eight years of total Democratic rule, Massachusetts has always had a soft spot for Republican governors. Over the past seven decades, eight of the 12 governors to lead the Commonwealth have been Republicans. Two of them, Baker and Bill Weld, won in historic blowouts.
But Diehl is a far cry from the traditional Massachusetts moderate. In October, he was endorsed by Trump after calling the 2020 election “rigged” for Joe Biden.
Baker’s announcement wasn’t the only bad news last week for MassGOP’s 2022 hopes. Republicans saw their numbers dwindle further in the Mass State House the night before when Democrat Jamie Belsito beat Rowley Republican Robert Snow in a special election for a North Shore seat that had been held by former GOP state Rep. Brad Hill. Hill had controlled the seat for decades, and won the district by double digits as recently as 2018. Belsito won by a 55-45 margin.
That election won’t mean anything for the balance of power on Beacon Hill, but it does promote a grim possibility for Mass Republicans: that nationwide Republican gains in 2022 won’t make their way to the Bay State. In 2014, a GOP wave across the US included Baker’s triumph in Mass and other down-ballot victories. So far, despite trends looking up for Republicans at a national level, conservatives in the northeast have struggled to keep up.
The flipside is a major opening for Dems, whose party base has shifted left since their last real shot at the corner office. Four lesser-knowns are already seeking the nomination for gov: State Sen. Sonia Rosa Chang-Díaz, former state Sen. Benjamin Downing, Harvard political science professor Danielle Allen, and business owner Orlando Silva. Chang-Díaz has already garnered a long list of endorsements from progressive lawmakers and activist groups.
The biggest name the party has to offer is Attorney General Maura Healey, who was long seen in progressive circles as the only Democrat who would have a chance to beat Baker. In early 2018, gubernatorial candidates talked of exiting the race had Healey jumped in. In her two statewide races, Healey blew out her Republican opponents, winning an even bigger share of the vote than Baker in 2018.
Healey said she would announce whether or not she plans to run “soon.”
Former Boston Mayor and current Labor Secretary Marty Walsh is also considering a run, according to Politico. (Ed. note: That sounds like total nonsense to us, not even worth a link.)
Meanwhile, Lowell Republican Darius Mitchell, who picked up a respectable chunk of the delegate vote for US Senate at the 2018 MassGOP convention, is also seeking his party’s nomination.
Historically speaking, Baker’s decision comes as little surprise. No Mass governor has ever served three consecutive four-year terms The only governor to have served for 12 years is Michael Dukakis.