Karyn Polito Wants To Be Charlie Baker’s No. 2—But What Does He Want?

Plus: Some totally baseless speculation about a possible Lieutenant Governor candidate.

There’s an intriguing article in Monday’s Globe by two fine political journos about Karyn Polito’s decision to run for Lieutenant Governor—the official announcement of which appears to be coming Tuesday.

Polito was one of several Republican women known to be interested in that race—it’s been a matter of faith for a long time that Charlie Baker needs a female running-mate—but it’s unclear whether any others will run, even though Baker is claiming to invite a competitive race.

I have been assuming that Baker is fibbing about not planning to choose a running-mate, because he’s smart, and I think the smart thing for him to do is to choose a running-mate (perhaps while saying he’s not doing so). My prediction has been governor’s councilor Jen Caissie.

An actual competitive LG race, with the vote-splitting several ways in a small GOP primary turnout, could very realistically result in saddling Baker with a really harmful hard-right nominee. Even if not, it could drag the other LG candidates to the right and create perception problems. Plus, the LG nominee would likely emerge from the September primary with little or no campaign funds left—one of the great advantages of clearing the field (like Baker-Tisei in 2010) is that both parts of the ticket can stockpile funds for the general election.

So, a competitive LG primary seems too risky for Baker. But, the perception that he is allowing one could be good for him. For one thing, it could allow him to pick (behind the scenes) a running-mate conservative enough to assuage the state’s conservatives—who he needs to work actively for his campaign—while keeping his own hands clean of those conservative views.

That could be what’s taking place with Polito. Baker might be positioning her as his LG while publicly stoking a narrative that he has nothing to do with it. She’s by far not the worst he could end up with, and quite possibly the best he can do without risking an ugly backlash from the right.

The other possibility is that Polito’s just running. I get the sense that she’s being boosted by many of the conservatives who were with Michael Sullivan in his unsuccessful U.S. Senate special election campaign; a lot of them are not too keen on bowing to the state GOP establishment’s wishes. Polito, as the Globe article suggested, seems to have fallen, with their help, considerably farther down the Tea Party rabbit hole since her unsuccessful 2010 campaign for state Treasurer.

The problem for Baker now is that, like her or not, he might end up stuck with Polito unless he does openly choose a running-mate. It’s getting late in the process—especially given the advantage of raising money in two calendar years, which is probably driving Polito’s timing. There aren’t too many potential candidates out there who might take on Polito at this point, unless they have Baker’s backing.

Of course, Baker might have an ace up his sleeve. Maybe he’s got someone waiting in the wings to announce for LG.

If I were him, I might be looking around for a little-known but well-respected woman, with top-level business and non-profit experience, who has served in a previous Republican gubernatorial administration. As it happens, someone fitting that description is just making herself available at the end of this week, but I don’t want to irresponsibly stoke any wild, entirely baseless speculation.