Meet Charlie Baker: The Man Destined to Become Our Next Governor
IT WASN’T THAT LONG AGO that Charlie Baker was looking very much like our next governor. He was the man who’d single-handedly rescued Harvard Pilgrim, the sinking health insurance giant; the guy who’d balanced every budget and made the tough choices to turn Massachusetts around in the administrations of Weld and Paul Cellucci. A fiscal conservative and self-proclaimed social moderate (pro-choice and for same-sex marriage), he also had the benefit of challenging an incumbent governor with approval numbers so dismal even his supporters were all but conceding defeat. And he was a member of a party on the move. Scott Brown’s victory in the special election for Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat had upended everything we thought we knew about politics in this state. Blue as it was, it turned out that Massachusetts was no different from anywhere else – sick of incumbents, sick of business as usual, ready for change.
And Baker was going to deliver it. He’d been borrowing from a Republican playbook in vogue back when Bill Weld was in office, painting Patrick as a typical tax-and-spend Democrat who’d “let the budget get away from him.” He attacked the governor for failing to make Massachusetts a more affordable place to do business, and for breaking a promise not to cut the local aid that the state gives to cities and towns. He pledged that, once elected, he’d reduce taxes and eliminate the waste in the state budget. The bell had yet to even ring and already Charlie Baker had knocked Deval Patrick out.
That was the thinking, anyway. It turns out that Patrick is not nearly as cooked as everyone had assumed. A ferocious campaigner, the governor has made few mistakes during his reelection bid – while taking advantage of opportunities to look like a confident leader during the flooding problems and drinking-water emergency of the spring. Then there’s state Treasurer Tim Cahill, the former Democrat whose campaign has been competing directly with Baker for the anti-Patrick vote.
But the real challenge for Baker hasn’t been his competition. It’s been Charlie Baker. What he has not shown, more than a year after announcing his intention to become the state’s next governor, is any real talent for campaigning. What he has shown is a troubling inability to connect with voters.
On the drive to Worcester, a campaign worker had explained that the job of everyone on the bus was to be as vocal and excited as possible at the rallies today. “So we’re all going to say how great Charlie is,” she instructed, “how he’s going to be the savior of the commonwealth!” Now the savior is ready to begin his speech outside Worcester City Hall, and he’s going to need all the help he can get.
Baker is standing at a lectern with his supporters lined up behind him on tiers of cement steps. But because the turnout is so dreadful, there’s almost no one left for him to address. As he begins his speech, he’s talking to just a handful of staffers and journalists. There are 13 people sitting at the tables and chairs that occupy the square behind City Hall, but their curious looks make it clear they haven’t come for the speech. “These are all his people,” a photographer from the Worcester Telegram & Gazette keeps saying. “There’s no public here.”