Business executives loved Charlie Baker four years ago, and they still love him, even more now that his chief opponent is not a sitting governor.
It’s this simple: Baker is one of them. He’s a former Harvard Pilgrim Health Care CEO, who after losing the election to Deval Patrick in 2010 became a venture capitalist joining General Catalyst as an entrepreneur in residence.
Martha Coakley, on the other hand, is someone corporate titans hope they never cross paths with. As the state’s attorney general, her job is to keep companies in line — through the power to investigate and sue. In other words, they fear this Democrat.
So it comes as no surprise that the who’s who — and the who’s was — have been eager to jump on the Baker bandwagon, even crossing party lines. Boston power broker Jack Connors got the party really started with a dinner for about 40 at L’Espalier Monday night, raising more than $200,000 for the Massachusetts Republican Party that will help fuel Baker’s ground operations and advertising.
The suggested minimum donation: $5,000 per head. That makes the posh Back Bay restaurant’s chef’s tasting menu — at $205 a person — seem like a bargain. Rubbing elbows amid the passed hors d’oeuvres, flowing wine, halibut and steak courses, and famed cheese plate were former Bank of America chairman and Bank of Boston chief executive Chad Gifford, Suffolk Construction CEO John Fish, former John Hancock CEO David D’Alessandro, former BostonCoach CEO Larry Moulter, real estate mogul Joe Corcoran, and EMC cofounder Roger Marino.
Baker, who ran Harvard Pilgrim after serving in the Weld administration, also attracted bold face names from his former sector, including Brigham and Women’s Hospital chief executive Betsy Nabel, Partners Healthcare chief financial officer Peter Markell, and Cape Cod Healthcare president Michael Lauf.
The Republican candidate will need all the friends in high places he can get. He is in a too-close-to-call race against Coakley and will need, in particular, influential Democrats like Connors to raise money and get out the vote.
Connors, a well-known Democrat, has known Baker for two decades. Baker’s wife, Lauren, had worked for Connors at Hill Holliday, the advertising agency he helped start. And Connors has deep ties in the hospital world, having served as chairman of Partners for many years.
Now, some business folks like to sprinkle their contributions among candidates so they won’t be on the losing side. Dr. Nabel, for one, is checking out her options. But others — including Hill Holliday CEO Karen Kaplan, Moulter, D’Alessandro, and Fish — are ready to commit to Baker. Fish, who is also chair of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and a registered independent, told me Tuesday that as governor “Charlie Baker would make a hell of a CEO” of Massachusetts.
With a month left until Election Day, Fish hopes the electorate and candidates will focus on the big issues. For him, that’s about helping the middle class by figuring out health care, education, and transportation. “We can’t be for one,” he said. “We have to be for all.”
Coakley has also been aggressive on the money front, too — and she has to be after spending down her coffers during her contested primary. According to state campaign filings, Baker has nearly $1.2 million on hand, compared with Coakley’s roughly $227,000.
Last Friday, first lady Michelle Obama headlined an intimate fund-raiser that brought in about $150,000 before she appeared at a rally with Coakley at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester. Hillary Clinton also plans to campaign for Coakley, a visit that will include a fund-raising component.
It’s high political season, and executives are starting to vote with their wallets.