LAWRENCE — Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker called on the head of the National Football League to resign Monday, after days of criticism from his Democratic rival and women’s political groups who had said that Baker was failing to take a strong position on Commissioner Roger Goodell’s handling of domestic violence cases involving players.
It was the latest example of how the issue of domestic violence has found new prominence in the governor’s race.
Just about every candidate has talked about domestic violence at some point over the last few months. But as headlines swirl with allegations of violence by NFL players, especially when video emerged of the Baltimore Ravens’ running back Ray Rice knocking out his fiancee, the tenor of the conversation has ratcheted up as both major party candidates seek to sway women voters to their side.
The most recent political tempest began Thursday at the end of a “Women for Charlie” event when Baker was asked if Goodell should resign. He was noncommittal.
“If we fired everybody, every time we got into one of these situations . . . I don’t know,” Baker said. “I would like to see more data and more information, but I think that the commissioner has a lot to answer for.”
The response from women’s political groups and Attorney General Martha Coakley’s campaign for governor was swift. MassNOW issued a statement saying Baker’s “refusal to take a stance sends a clear message . . . that ending violence against women is not his priority.”
Coakley’s campaign created a Web video with a response from the Democratic candidate herself: “I don’t think it’s a hard call. I think he should resign.” Her campaign used it in a fund-raising plea, calling Baker’s answer “clueless” and asking supporters to “watch the video and chip in to our campaign.”
On Sunday, Coakley and the Democratic nominee for attorney general, Maura Healey, issued a joint letter calling for high school student-athletes to receive training on how to prevent teen dating violence, similar to the instruction they receive about substance abuse.
Baker’s campaign said it was disappointed Coakley was using the issue for political attacks, especially given her defense of Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan’s handling of a 2013 case involving Jared Remy. Remy killed Jennifer Martel, his girlfriend and the mother of his child, a day after he was allowed to walk away from court after his arraignment on charges of slamming her head into a mirror.
“When it comes to domestic violence, Charlie believes the people would best be served if officials focused on eradicating it and protecting women, not making the issue into fodder for misleading political attacks or fund-raising e-mails,” Tim Buckley, Baker’s campaign spokesman, said Monday.
The state GOP echoed these criticisms last week.
On Monday, Baker said it was time for Goodell to go. “I think the information that’s come out over the weekend has indicated that he knew far more than he let on at the point in time when he was first questioned on this, and I think at this point in time it would be appropriate for him to resign,” Baker told reporters before touring Polartec in Lawrence.
It was not his first statement on the broader issue of domestic violence. In March, Baker released a domestic violence plan that calls for stiffer penalties for abusers and establishes programs to help victims navigate the legal process, encourages them to file charges and request restraining orders.
But it was Baker’s response to the NFL controversy last week that prompted Coakley’s campaign to go on the attack because, it said, the response “highlighted a clear difference between the candidates.”
“His first response was to ask for more data, and Martha’s was to see the impact on real people,” said Bonnie McGilpin, Coakley’s campaign spokeswoman.
Political analysts say the candidates’ weighing in on Goodell is a way for them to differentiate themselves, particularly to women voters.
Women are expected to play a pivotal role in this election, say analysts in both parties. Women’s political groups have rallied around Coakley, who would be the state’s first elected female governor. Baker, who ran for the corner office in 2010 and lost women by 24 percentage points, has taken several steps in an attempt to avoid repeating mistakes of the past.
Although Baker and Coakley are in a tight race, Coakley is currently up by 18 points among women, according to recent Globe polls.
But William Mayer, a political scientist at Northeastern University, said focusing on the football commissioner’s job seems “a little off point.”
“Nobody in the NFL has been anxiously waiting to see what Martha Coakley has to say about this issue,” Mayer said. “Obviously, Martha Coakley has no authority over whether Goodell will resign, and, presumably, will have other things to occupy her time [should] she become governor. So yes, it’s a completely symbolic issue.”
Besides, he said, Coakley has such a commanding lead in the polls when it comes to female voters that he doubts if this will become a big issue.
As for candidates wading into middle and high school sports, Bill Gaine, executive director of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, said his organization is embracing the attention; for them, it’s about community partnerships, not politics.