SWAMPSCOTT — Seated next to his wife on Thursday morning in the sun-soaked foyer of their sprawling home, Charles D. Baker said friends had approached him after he lost his 2010 challenge to Governor Deval Patrick with a damning verdict on the level of authenticity he had projected on the campaign trail.
“The guy I know, I didn’t see him,” Baker said they told him.
Lauren Baker laughed, “I even felt that way.”
Baker is trying from the outset of his gubernatorial campaign to cobble together a coalition that eluded him during his 2010 bid, featuring his family more prominently and working to cultivate the image of a warmer candidate who is willing to listen rather than lecture.
Trounced by Patrick among female voters by 24 percentage points three years ago, according to a post-election MassINC poll, Baker said Thursday that his shortcomings in that campaign owed to a failure “to focus enough on my vision for Massachusetts.” This time, he said, he would do more listening.
‘The guy I know, I didn’t see him.’ — Charles D. Baker
“I violated all of my own standards and rules for management and leadership,” he told the Globe during a 45-minute interview.
“That goofy family guy, that really enthusiastic, hard-charging, set-the-bar-high, let’s-go-get-it-type leader: People never thought they saw him,” he said at a press conference outside his house later in the day. “And for us, when we talked about doing this again, we said, ‘If nothing, else, whatever happens, in November 2014, we do not want the people who know me best to come up to us afterward and say, ‘Where were you? We never saw that guy.’ So we’re going to make sure you see that guy.”
The strategy is not without peril. In revising the way he presents himself to voters, Baker risks again running afoul of the authenticity test, and of confusing voters about which version of him is closer to genuine.
How adroitly Baker reorients himself will probably figure heavily in how successful he is in luring the independent voters and centrist Democrats who snubbed him last time. Much of the top command from his last campaign is gone, and the cast of his informal advisers has evolved as well.
But Baker’s loss in 2010, less than 10 months after Scott Brown pulled off a surprise win in a US Senate special election largely by running on a “regular guy” image, has convinced the former Harvard Pilgrim Health Care chief executive that such a course correction is necessary.
The MassINC poll showed unenrolled voters, a bloc Massachusetts Republicans need to win by large margins to overcome the Democrats’ voter registration advantage, broke for Baker by only 14 points. In that race, unenrolled voters had a third option, Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, who ran that year as an independent.
Baker has already featured his wife more prominently than during the entire 2010 campaign, when she stayed largely out of the public eye.
“I don’t love it,” she said Thursday of the political game. Even so, Lauren Baker said she was initially eager to run again.
“It was so frustrating,” she said. “It’s really hard to lose and I think the first thing I wanted was another chance and then I was like, ‘Wait a minute, why would you ever do that again?’ ”
The Bakers said they warmed to a second run during the summer, although Lauren Baker said she was not certain that her husband would run again until the moment she saw the announcement video his campaign released on Wednesday.
Baker said that although Brown had indicated to him that he had other plans, he was not positive that Brown would not run for governor until receiving a text message from someone who had been listening to Brown’s public announcement on WBZ radio last month.
A contested primary with Brown, Baker said, would have been challenging.
Democrats, who have long anticipated a rematch with Baker, have pounced on his role in the Big Dig, repeating their charges from the 2010 campaign that he bungled the project’s financing plan during his tenure as state budget chief in the 1990s. On Thursday, Baker called it a stale issue.
“I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about stuff that happened in the last century,” he said.
He added, “If that’s really all they have to talk about, they’re pretty much out of ideas.”
Baker also backed away from the tough positions that he took in the 2010 campaign, and said he planned to center his 2014 campaign around three key subject areas: the economy, education, and building stronger partnership between Beacon Hill and local governments.
He said he will no longer push to cut the income, sales and corporate tax rates back to 5 percent, which was a central plank of his platform in 2010, when he traveled the state calling himself, a “five, five, and five guy.”
Instead, Baker said he will support more modest tax relief: a rollback in the recently passed tax on computer services companies and repeal of a measure that indexes the gas tax to inflation.
He also said he probably would have vetoed the casino bill that Patrick signed in 2011, but said he now views the issue largely as settled law.
Baker noted he still opposes Cape Wind, saying there are far cheaper and more efficient ways to deliver clean energy to state ratepayers. “It’s just not an economically viable project,” he said of the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm, calling it a “windfall” for the project’s developers.
During the afternoon press conference, Baker dodged a question about whether he would welcome to the campaign trail Mitt Romney, the former governor whose popularity has plummeted in Massachusetts.
Baker said he has been focused on enlisting “regular people supporters,” and though he welcomes Romney’s vote, he wasn’t willing to broach the idea of him campaigning for him.
“We haven’t even thought about stuff like that,” Baker said.