Governor Charlie Baker is “pretty close” to deciding whether to seek reelection next year, the second-term Republican said Monday, while brushing off suggestions it could be as an independent candidate.
“I said soon,” said Baker, 65, on GBH’s “Boston Public Radio” about his decision. “When you’re 65 years old, ‘soon’ can cover a lot of territory. . . . We’re getting pretty close.”
Baker’s coy response continued his months-long still-making-up-my-mind mantra to what are now near-daily questions about his plans for 2022.
He has continued to hold regular fund-raisers and travel the state, spurring widespread speculation that he could seek a third consecutive four-year term. The night before Thanksgiving, he flipped the switch on a holiday lights display in Springfield, where a supportive Democratic state lawmaker shouted “Run, Charlie, Run!”, according to The Republican newspaper in Springfield.
But those close to Baker have for weeks described him as seeming torn, and close-lipped, about whether he will run, pushing a choice that has ramifications up and down Massachusetts’ statewide ballot later into the year.
“I don’t sit around and say to myself, ‘You know, can I win or not?’” Baker told hosts Jim Braude and Margery Eagan on Monday. “To me the question always comes back to . . . do I have the will, the desire and the agenda that I believe would be in the state’s best interest, and the energy and the commitment to follow through and deliver on it?”
Baker, however, suggested if he does run, it would assuredly be as a Republican. A poll recently released by the consulting firm Northwind Strategies — whose leaders have advised Senator Elizabeth Warren, former governor Deval Patrick, and former Boston mayor Martin J. Walsh, among other Democrats — found Baker would hold a lead as an independent gubernatorial candidate in a hypothetical matchup with Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat, and former state representative Geoff Diehl, a Republican.
Healey, who like Baker is in her second term, has been weighing a possible gubernatorial run, but has yet to announce her plans. Three other Democrats — Harvard professor Danielle Allen, state Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, and former state senator Ben Downing — have already launched campaigns.
Diehl, who unsuccessfully challenged Warren in 2018, announced his campaign for governor on July 4.
Baker has feuded with the conservative, pro-Donald Trump leadership of the Massachusetts Republican Party. But he has for years deflected suggestions about leaving a party with whose national leadership and policy stances the moderate governor has been at odds.
“I believe in my brand of Republicanism,” Baker said Monday, calling it a “reasonable assumption to make” that were he to again run, it would be under the GOP banner.
Still, Baker has kept busy. Supporters last week circulated invitations for a fund-raiser for him and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito in Springfield on Dec. 14, with one of its hosts declaring in the e-mail (and in bold, italicized, and underlined capital letters) ”Four more years is the mantra.”
The fund-raiser was first reported by MassLive.com.
“I have every personal expectation that he’s going to run. But I can’t say anyone has told me that,” said Tony Ravosa, a consultant and former Springfield city councilor who is organizing the event with Peter Picknelly, the chairman and CEO of Peter Pan Bus Lines.
Picknelly, too, said Baker has not told him what he intends to do. Picknelly said he also plans to attend a separate fund-raising event for Baker on Wednesday at a private home in the Worcester area.
“He acts like he’s running,” Picknelly said of Baker. “He likes his job, he takes it very seriously, and wants to do well by the state and all its citizens. It’s my hope he runs again.”
Whatever his decision, Baker does not seem intent on quietly embracing retirement. Toward the end of his interview Monday, Eagan referenced a Globe story about how some baby boomers at the top industries are likely to be the last to step away. “The boomers are refusing to retire,” Eagan quipped.
Baker, a baby boomer himself, added that he intends to be “purposeful and productive as long as I can be purposeful and productive.”
“I don’t have any hobbies. I don’t. I read books,” he said. “I don’t golf. I don’t boat. I don’t fish. I don’t do any of that stuff. And my wife would lose her mind if I didn’t have something useful to do. So I have a feeling I’m going to be hopefully working for a long time.”
If Baker were to run and win a third consecutive four-year term, he would be the first governor to do so.
The Swampscott Republican’s wide-ranging interview on Boston Public Radio touched a variety of other areas.
Baker said Massachusetts has been working with 15 to 20 other states to create a universal program — or “a single QR code,” he said — that people can use to show proof of their vaccination where it may be required. His administration has not released details of the program, but Baker said he believes it will be announced “soon.”
He also said the state will seek to expand the availability of vaccines it receives from the federal government amid what appears to be growing demand for booster shots. Officials, including Baker, have re-emphasized calls for people to seek out vaccines as concerns grow about the emergence of the Omicron coronavirus variant, which was first reported by South African scientists on Thursday.
“When I go look at Vaxfinder . . . I can always find appointments,” Baker said, referencing the website the state created for residents to find appointments. “Now, that may not be in the place somebody wants to go to get one, and it may be a week or 10 days out, or two weeks out, before they can get one. But given the fact that we have far more demand now than we had a couple weeks ago, we’re going to see if we can’t increase our capacity to do more.”