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Yvonne Abraham

Hi there, Nice Charlie Baker

Republican candidate for governor Charlie Baker campaigned in Roxbury at the Haley House Bakery Cafe on Thursday.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Poor Steve Grossman. The treasurer wins the Democratic convention in Worcester, and the people who pay attention to these things will be talking about only Attorney General Martha Coakley, who has been killing him in the polls.

Poor Coakley, too. Her camp did a good job of lowering expectations for Saturday’s party confab, but then struggled to meet even those, with Coakley barely squeaking by former Obama administration official Don Berwick to take second place. Oof.

And so she’ll continue to be dogged by the ghosts of 2010, when she lost a special US Senate election to an empty barn jacket. Those four-year-old echoes can be pretty persistent.


Just ask Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker, who ran a dog of a campaign against incumbent Governor Deval Patrick that same year.

The thing is, Baker seems to be pulling away from his past. That awkward, galumphing, testy guy from 2010? That guy is not this guy. Angry Charlie has gone away. Say hello to Nice Charlie — the Charlie who Baker says is finally being himself.

Himself was impressive on a visit to Roxbury on Thursday. Just before lunchtime, he visited Haley House Bakery Café, in Dudley Square.

He got a warm reception, starting with Nate Awan, who came out from behind the counter to give the candidate a long, hard hug. Awan was headed for a lifetime in prison or worse before Haley House gave him a job and a future. Baker had visited the café a while back, and he and Awan sat down to talk for 40 minutes.

“After that he’s one of my favorite people in the world,” Awan said. “He got to know me and who I was, and I told him about my life. Since then, Charlie’s my guy.”

If a man like Awan considers Baker his guy, something is happening here. Robert Lewis Jr., who heads The BASE, which mentors black and Latino kids through baseball, says Baker has been listening to him for years, joining Lewis’s battle. The former Boston Foundation bigwig endorsed the Republican on Thursday.


“In politics, we talk about Ds and Rs,” Lewis said. “We don’t talk about Robert’s relationship with Charlie for eight years. I am a Democrat, but I support . . . the man and the leader who has been there for work I’ve done in the past.”

Let’s not get carried away here. It’s unlikely Baker converted anybody at Haley House, and he won’t be peeling away many votes in Roxbury. But he is showing up in places he might have written off last time, and connecting with people.

Where the old Charlie might have bent over tables in this café, a giant man towering above (and freaking out) patrons, this Charlie asked if he could sit down, folded himself into a seat, and chatted about their concerns.

He listened to patrons talk about the minimum wage, welfare fraud (OK, that’s probably a Baker vote), unemployment, underserved kids. He left the people I talked to feeling good about him, even though most said they probably wouldn’t vote for him. If he can do that in Roxbury, he will likely do a whole lot better in places like Quincy and Wakefield. And that should worry Democrats.

There are plenty of ways to beat Baker. Democrats can point to his about-faces on issues like the minimum wage and climate change. They enjoy huge advantages in registration and organization. They can hitch their wagons to Governor Deval Patrick, who still enjoys phenomenal approval ratings.


But they’re going to be out of luck on the likability thing. Partly because no one in the field approaches Patrick’s genius for connecting on the trail. And partly because the Baker I saw on Thursday is no longer as vulnerable on that front.

Still, Baker has plenty of work to do.

Walking down Dudley Street with his entourage on Thursday, he stopped outside a new laundromat.

“It’s the mayor! Hello Mr. Mayor!” one delighted woman yelled.

Baker went inside, where several women posed for pictures with him. If he attempted to set his new fans straight on who he was, they didn’t hear him.

“We will be voting for you,” said a starstruck customer. “We hope you stay as long as Menino.”

Baker emerged, relaxed and chuckling, genuinely tickled by the encounter.

“You take what you can get, right?” he said.

This year, that might be a lot.

More coverage:

Charlie Baker readies 2d bid for governor

Baker says he regrets parts of 2010 campaign

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at abraham@globe.com