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The Boston Globe

Opinion

SCOT LEHIGH

A tale of two Charlies

Charlie Baker spoke to members of the media outside of his home in Swampscott last week.

Jessica Rinaldi for the Boston Globe

Charlie Baker spoke to members of the media outside of his home in Swampscott last week.

Charlie Baker is running for governor again — and it will apparently be Charming Charlie who’s out on the hustings this time around.

It’s important to understand that two very different Charlies have ranged across this state’s political landscape. Charming Charlie is the affable policy wonk who did an impressive job as state secretary of Health and Human Services and, later, as secretary of Administration and Finance. And who was the plaudit-winning CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.

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And then there’s his off-putting alter ego, the guy who ran for governor last time around acting angry and annoyed and supercilious, the one who produced half-baked tax-cut proposals and resorted to tinny campaign gimmicks like EBT cards with Deval Patrick’s name on them.

Let’s call him . . . Churlish Charlie.

Charming Charlie is data driven, analytic, and generally willing to engage with everyone, even those who disagree. Churlish Charlie? Well, picture that acknowledge-no-nuance know-it-all you go out of your way to avoid at holiday parties, and you’ve got the general idea.

Charming Charlie has been out meeting with the media, trying to explain away his 2010 campaign. Some of his explanations, it has to be said, have been a tad curious.

To wit: “I treated the thing sort of like a job interview.”

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As the military guys say: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!? Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never known a potential employer to declare: You know, what I am really looking for is someone who is impatient, drips with disdain for his rivals, and makes ridiculous promises.

Back during the 2010 campaign, some of us who had viewed Charming Charlie as the likeable, innovative intellectual engine of the Bill Weld/Paul Cellucci years barely recognized him in the caustic candidate who emerged as the GOP nominee.

It turns out that some of Charming Charlie’s friends felt the same way about Churlish Charlie. “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,” Baker said.

Not even his wife, Lauren.

Now, there is a downside to this story: If one is to credit the tale, it suggests that Charlie is either: 1) not necessarily Billy-the-Kid quick on the introspective uptake or 2) awfully slow and stubborn when it comes to admitting his mistakes.

Why do I say? In part because I’m thinking of a lunch he and I had a few months after his gubernatorial campaign concluded. At that time, Baker told me that, upon reflection, he thought it would have been nigh unto impossible for him to have beaten as talented a campaigner as Deval Patrick, particularly with Treasurer Tim Cahill running as a fiscally conservative independent and draining off anti-Patrick votes.

I wasn’t buying. Actually, I said, he had lost a winnable race because he turned off a lot of persuadable, Bill Weld-appreciating moderates with an unappealing, excessively partisan, fiscally unrealistic campaign. I’m not sure that observation set that well with whichever Charlie it was I was breaking bread with that day — the more so since I added that he now seemed to be trying to salve his wounds by rationalizing away his defeat.

So does Baker really, sincerely believe that he made a hash of things last time around? Honestly, I’d be more persuaded if he had started off our distant lunch by saying: You know, I really messed things up in that campaign.

As it is, the timing of his maybea culpa seems awfully convenient. Further, its through-the-eyes-of-others perspective lets Baker change course without a full and forthright admission of his 2010 shortcomings.

And yet, with all that said, I do think that he is a considerably more interesting, talented, and congenial guy than the candidate voters saw in 2010.

Either way, we should know soon enough whether the New Charlie is the True Charlie.

Character, after all, has a way of revealing itself over the course of a long campaign.

Given that reality, perhaps the best advice to Baker is that which Polonius gave to Laertes, but with one addendum.

To thine own self be true — no matter which self that really is.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GlobeScotLehigh.

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