Reports of Charlie Baker’s demise appear to have been greatly exaggerated.
It wasn’t so long ago that partisans and pundits smelled blood in the water. Baker’s headaches with the Massachusetts State Police, the T, and especially the pandemic appeared to make him vulnerable.
In a year of awakening, not to mention wokeness, it seemed the worst thing you could be is male, pale, and stale.
An earnest Democrat, Ben Downing, threw his hat in the ring for the governor’s office. Maura Healey seemed to be dipping her toe in the water, sampling the temperature. Emboldened Democratic legislators dropped their usual deference.
But a funny thing happened the other day. A poll by The Boston Globe and Suffolk University found the supposedly mortally wounded Charlie Baker was, as the guy in the Monty Python “Bring Out Your Dead” skit insisted, not dead yet.
The poll found most Massachusetts residents approve of Baker’s job performance, cutting him slack on screwups, real or perceived.
More than 70 percent approved of his handling of the pandemic, and while the initially messy rollout of vaccinations was widely seen as making him politically vulnerable, nearly 60 percent gave him high marks for that, too.
If you’re Ben Downing, touting that you’ve raised $227,712 in eight weeks, you realize you’re going to need a bigger boat. If you’re Maura Healey, you realize the pool water is not nearly as warm as you thought. And if you’re a progressive, you’re bewildered that Baker is more popular with women, Blacks, and Hispanics than he is with men, whites, and Asians.
There were polls showing Baker’s popularity slipping in the face of anxiety and uncertainty over vaccines and when and how to reopen the economy and schools. But that slippage was from historic highs and frankly inevitable, given the shambolic rollout of a vaccine appointment website.
The rollout wasn’t smooth. But then, name a state where it was.These are uncharted waters in unprecedented times.
Massachusetts is doing better than most states. At least it’s not Florida, where rich people get pushed to the front of the line. Donald Trump carried 12 of the 13 states that have vaccinated the least number of residents; surely, just coincidence.
Baker has his problems. The State Police need substantial reform. As evidenced by the horrific death of a 14-year-old developmentally disabled boy in Fall River, DCF is always one scandal away from undermining any administration.
But that new poll suggests most people in Massachusetts give Baker the very thing every politician would give their right arm for: the benefit of the doubt.
There are many Democrats who will not rest until Charlie Baker climbs on top of the Golden Dome and renounces his own party. And for some of them, that still wouldn’t be enough.
Baker is also dismissed as a RINO by many Republicans, who will never forgive him for his regular denunciations of Trump.
Between those two poles lies the earnest middle that is the essence of Baker’s popularity.
If the far left and the far right think he’s a bum, then, a lot of moderate-minded people reason that he must be doing something right.
In Massachusetts, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 3 to 1. But the more salient fact is that Massachusetts has more unenrolled voters than Democrats and Republicans combined, voters who often vote more tactically than ideologically.
Like his Republican pals, Governors Phil Scott in Vermont and Larry Hogan in Maryland, Baker is seen by a lot of voters as a check against one-party rule. He’s far from perfect, but he’s a decent guy and not ideologically rigid in a state where voter registration suggests the majority of voters value those sensibilities.
Baker can mitigate the extremes of Democrats, who never met a tax they didn’t like, and Republicans, whose state party apparatus is dominated by tone-deaf reactionaries who worship Trump and hopelessly and haplessly long for the days when guys slicked their hair back with Brylcreem and gals majored in home ec.
Sometimes, the middle is a good place to be.
Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.