One of the most popular governors in the country, Baker was the GOP’s best hope of holding onto the governor’s office in a solidly blue state.
But Baker’s been increasingly at odds with his own party. And he faced significant political headwinds if he chose to run for a third term, including a conservative primary challenger backed by former President Donald Trump and attacks from across the political spectrum on his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and climate change.
Those close to Baker had recently described a two-term governor torn over whether to seek what in Massachusetts would be an unprecedented third consecutive term. He kept operatives, donors and observers guessing late into the year even as he ramped up fundraising throughout the fall after pausing those activities for most of the pandemic.
Baker said in a Boston-area radio interview earlier this week his calculus wasn’t about “can I win or not” but whether he has “the will, the desire and the agenda that I believe would be in the state’s best interest, and the energy and commitment to follow through and deliver on it.”
But the math didn’t look so good for a governor who’s claimed to be a “data guy.”
The stratospheric approval ratings Baker enjoyed throughout most of his seven years in office took a dip during Covid-19, and he faced some of the worst criticism of his gubernatorial career over the state’s initially rocky vaccine rollout. One recent survey showed Baker with higher job approval ratings among Democrats and independents than among members of his own party. Other recent surveys from Democrat-aligned firms showed him trailing Trump-endorsed former state Rep. Geoff Diehl in a Republican primary and suggested the incumbent had a better path forward as an independent rather than continuing with his own party — though Baker repeatedly rejected the idea he’d desert his party.
He said he blanked his ballot for president in 2016 and 2020 so as not to vote for Trump, and emerged as a persistent critic of the president’s handling of the pandemic. Baker also supported Trump’s second impeachment and rejected the former president’s false claims that the 2020 election was rife with fraud — prompting direct attacks from Trump and the endorsement of Diehl for governor. Baker has increasingly and publicly clashed with the pro-Trump chair of his state party as well.
Still, the Republican Governors Association wanted Baker on its team. RGA officials said they hoped Baker would run again as a Republican during the group’s meeting in Phoenix last month. At the event, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan mentioned himself and Baker as examples of effective Republican leaders in Democratic states. Baker featured prominently in the RGA’s latest video touting GOP governors — right after the party’s star du jour, Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin. And the RGA posted a local news clip of Baker supporting small businesses on its YouTube page just last week.
Baker’s long-awaited decision energizes the Massachusetts governor’s race. State Attorney General Maura Healey, widely considered the Democrats’ best chance to reclaim the corner office, will now be expected to say whether she’ll join a field that already includes state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, former state Sen. Ben Downing and Harvard professor Danielle Allen. Healey’s decision is likely to spur movement within the state’s deep Democratic bench for down-ballot races as well.