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Baker on Hobby Lobby case: ‘It doesn’t change a thing’ in Mass.

Republican Gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Baker

Gretchen Ertl/AP

Republican Gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Baker

This is what it means to run for governor as a Republican in Massachusetts.

Both the left and right have burst into paroxysms over last month’s Supreme Court’s ruling that employers like Hobby Lobby can duck the federal health care law’s birth control coverage mandate if their owners oppose contraception on religious grounds. Democrats have framed the decision as part of an ongoing “war on women”; Republicans have hailed it as a blow for religious freedom and against government over-reach.

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To Charlie Baker, the likely GOP gubernatorial nominee? “It doesn’t matter.”

“What I care about is Massachusetts, and in Massachusetts it doesn’t change a thing,” Baker said Wednesday. “Which is great.”

The birth control coverage mandate in Massachusetts’s health care law, Baker explained, would likely go forward unaffected.

“In Massachusetts, the terms of our law, I think have worked for everybody involved, and I think can continue to work going forward,” Baker said.

Baker’s artful dodge on the Hobby Lobby points up the challenge for a member of his party seeking statewide office here: to confine the conversation to as local an arena as possible. The brand of conservatism prevalent in the national Republican Party is essentially a non-starter with a broadest swath of the Massachusetts electorate.

His comments drew a rebuke from Congresswoman Katherine Clark, who told the Globe in a telephone interview that they made Baker seem disconnected from his desired constituency.

The Hobby Lobby case, Clark said, “absolutely matters. And I think that it is irresponsible and out of touch of Charlie Baker to think otherwise.”

While state law provides for contraception coverage, Clark pointed to the prospect that the Supreme Court decision could be used to erode that access in the future.

“It’s about access to basic health care. I don’t think the women of Massachusetts should have to worry that their next governor doesn’t understand that,” Clark said.

“If he doesn’t understand that, I don’t think he should be running for governor,” she added.

Baker came to the State House on Wednesday, with two campaign aides in tow, to push a House-backed bill to lift the cap on charter-school enrollment, calling it a way to improve education and increase options.

“I view this as sort of a gut-check time for all of my opponents and for the Legislature,” Baker told reporters whom his campaign had summoned to the capitol’s press row. “This is an opportunity for them to do what’s right for the kids in cities in Massachusetts, and to give them the kind of options, proven options, that have demonstrated that they can make a real difference for them.”

Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at Jim.OSullivan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JOSreports.
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