In the 2022 race for Massachusetts governor, Republican incumbent Charlie Baker is out.
Who’s in? Well, everyone . . . or no one.
Baker’s announcement Wednesday that he will not seek reelection opened the floodgates to a rush of potential candidates — and to even more speculative chatter from political watchers. With his high name recognition and enviable approval ratings, Baker would have led the field. Without him in it, the contest could be anybody’s.
Now, with less than a year before the general election, and as major candidates remain reticent about their plans, the scope of the contest is impossible to predict. Among the hopefuls who could join the four major candidates already in the race: the state’s attorney general and a former Boston mayor.
Now that Baker is out of contention — as well as Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, who had been seen as a successor — Democrats are bullish on their chances to win back the governor’s office, which Republicans have controlled for most of the last three decades.
Three major Democrats have already declared for governor: state Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, former state senator Ben Downing, and Harvard professor Danielle Allen. But the immediate focus turned Wednesday to one who’s been coy about her plans: Maura Healey, the well-known Democratic attorney general.
Healey has said she is considering running for governor, but when asked Wednesday during an appearance on Bloomberg TV, she said, “I’ll save that for another day,” promising a decision “soon.”
“Really today is about acknowledging, I think, and appreciating the service of Governor Baker,” Healey said. “These jobs are not easy, particularly in these challenging times.”
With her high name recognition — and roughly $3.3 million in campaign funds— she would be considered an immediate front-runner in the Democratic primary. Her candidacy could also discourage other would-be contenders not eager to battle an opponent with a national reputation for going after Donald Trump and Purdue Pharma.
Advisers to Healey said that she was still mulling her decision.
Chang-Díaz, Downing, and Allen have already been running for months, vying for support and donations at a time when many were waiting to see what Baker and Healey do. Each has their strengths: Allen, sterling academic credentials; Downing, a base in Western Massachusetts; and Chang-Díaz, the boisterous support of hyper-engaged progressive activists. But Democratic analysts say none of the three yet has the name ID to control the field, leaving room for a better-known candidate to sweep in.
They could find a formidable opponent in former Boston mayor and current US Labor Secretary Martin J. Walsh, who is taking a look at the race, according to two people familiar with his thinking. Walsh, who had $5.1 million in his campaign account and has made clear he is attached to his home state and its politics, would enjoy the advantage of being a household name in Massachusetts’ biggest city.
In the wake of Baker’s announcement, Walsh received a flood of calls encouraging him to consider entering the governor’s race, said one person with knowledge of Walsh’s thinking.
“He’s just processing the news,” the person said.
Walsh talked and thought about running for governor during his mayoral tenure, saying that post is an executive-type job “that he likes doing,” according to another close Walsh ally.
The Dorchester Democrat has polled well statewide, the person said, though Walsh has not publicly indicated whether he has interest in the governor’s office.
“He’d be crazy not to look at it, I think is the thought he has,” said the Walsh ally.
Efforts to reach Walsh were unsuccessful.
Others may emerge from the ranks of city government. Boston City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George, weeks removed from losing to Michelle Wu in the mayoral race, is taking “a close look at” at running for governor and speaking to advisers about the race, according to a person familiar with the Democrat’s thinking.
Wednesday’s developments also quickly whittled down the GOP primary for governor, where Geoff Diehl, a Trump-endorsed conservative and former state representative, has been running since July. Trump pledged his support to Diehl last month, injecting himself into a state he lost badly in 2016 and 2020 but where he retains support within the upper rungs of the Massachusetts Republican Party leadership and its conservative ranks.
With Baker and Polito out, other Republicans are looking for a more moderate alternative to Diehl. Some have their eyes on Andrew Lelling, the former US attorney who prosecuted celebrities and business leaders as part of a national college admissions scandal. Reached Wednesday, Lelling declined comment.
Taunton Mayor Shaunna O’Connell, a Republican, is also looking at the race, a spokeswoman said.
With countless names tossed around, just as many people eagerly quashed speculation they might run.
An adviser to former representative Joseph P. Kennedy III — whom many strategists named as a viable candidate — said the Democrat still “has no plans to run for governor next year.” Another name that surfaced was Joshua Kraft, son of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and the president of Kraft Family Philanthropies. Kraft said Wednesday that he is not considering a bid for governor.
Bob Rivers, the chairman and CEO of Eastern Bank, said with a laugh, “Oh God no. My course is set for a while,” when asked Wednesday if he’s looking at the race.
Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, who has been seen as a potential candidate after announcing he wouldn’t run for another term leading his city, made his lack of interest in the 2022 race clear with very few words: “100% no,” he tweeted, in response to speculation.
Other statewide races already are crowded or unsettled. The lieutenant governor’s field includes three declared candidates: state Representative Tami Gouveia, a two-term Democrat from Acton; state Senator Adam G. Hinds, a three-term Democrat from Pittsfield; and Bret Bero, a Democrat who is a Boston businessman and Babson College lecturer. They are pursuing a seat that, despite being state government’s number two perch, carries few technical responsibilities.
Dan Koh, Walsh’s chief of staff at the Labor Department, is seriously considering running for lieutenant governor in the Democratic primary, a person with knowledge of his plans said Wednesday.
Koh, who also served as Walsh’s chief of staff at City Hall, narrowly finished second to now-Representative Lori Trahan in a crowded Democratic primary for the Third Congressional District in 2018 before serving on the select board in his hometown of Andover.
Scott Donohue, a Melrose Democrat, has also filed paperwork with campaign finance officials indicating he’s running for lieutenant governor.
Should Healey seek the governor’s office, or just forgo reelection, a burgeoning field awaits for attorney general.
Quentin Palfrey, Massachusetts Democrats’ 2018 nominee for lieutenant governor and an attorney who has served in the Biden administration, and Shannon Liss-Riordan, a Brookline labor attorney and one-time US Senate candidate, are both weighing Democratic bids should the attorney general’s post open up.
State Senator Eric P. Lesser — a Harvard Law graduate, Longmeadow Democrat, and Obama White House alum — is also viewed within party circles as a potential candidate.
Massachusetts’ three other constitutional offices also remain somewhat unsettled. Secretary of State William F. Galvin has not said whether he’ll seek an eighth term, though he indicated he intends to make a decision soon.
Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, a Brookline Democrat, has not publicly said whether she’ll seek a third term. A person close to her said Wednesday that she is still considering whether to seek reelection, though she is not currently eyeing any other seats.
A Democratic primary has already formed for the open state auditor seat, between state Senator Diana DiZoglio of Methuen and Chris Dempsey, a transportation advocate. State Auditor Suzanne Bump has previously said she would not seek a fourth term in office.
Danny McDonald and Victoria McGrane of the Globe staff contributed to this report.