A question for Democrats: Who will challenge Charlie Baker?

Newton Mayor Setti Warren is on the list of potential Democratic challengers to Governor Baker in 2018.
Newton Mayor Setti Warren is on the list of potential Democratic challengers to Governor Baker in 2018.Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

Newton Mayor Setti Warren’s announcement this week that he wouldn’t run for reelection gave Massachusetts Democrats something to ponder besides the wreckage of Tuesday’s election: Is Warren going to run for governor instead? Can they shift the conversation to that now, please?

Someone is going to have to challenge first-term Republican Governor Charlie Baker, who, despite continued popularity, suffered a few dents in his agenda in Tuesday’s election.

“The 2016 elections have shown us that no one is preordained to win an election,” said Jay Cincotti, executive director of the Massachusetts Democratic Party. He noted that Baker, who is expected to seek a second term, took prominent positions on two ballot questions — advancing charter schools and opposing marijuana legalization — with which Massachusetts voters strongly disagreed.


“That would suggest to me that he certainly can be beat in 2018,” Cincotti said. “He’s not infallible.”

Granted, it’s early, and Democrats — still blindsided by the election of Republican President-elect Donald Trump — can’t quite see that far. But come Monday, they will hold a state committee meeting where they will elect the person who will succeed state Senator Thomas M. McGee as party chairman and start charting the course for the next round of elections.

No one has officially leapt forward to challenge Baker, who has repeatedly been called the most popular governor in the country, and who has amassed a campaign fund of more than $4 million. Attorney General Maura Healey, the Democrats’ highest-ranking officeholder at the state level, has repeatedly said she will not run in 2018.

But the announcement by Warren seemed a clear sign to party insiders that he’s ready. The first African-American mayor of Newton and an Iraq veteran, Warren is viewed as an ambitious politician. He launched a campaign for US Senate after little more than a year in office, to the dismay of some of his constituents. (He abandoned that campaign after Elizabeth Warren entered the race.)


Warren, the mayor, couldn’t be reached on Friday to address the possibility of a gubernatorial run.

Warren, the senator, is positioned to be “the de facto leader of the Democrats,” after Hillary Clinton’s loss, said Democratic political consultant Mary Anne Marsh, who noted that Warren reached out this week to Trump, offering to work with him on the economic issues that motivated many of his supporters. Marsh believes Warren will remain in the Senate longer as a result. Also staying put are all the Democrats who might have fled Massachusetts for a Clinton administration, she said.

“I think many Democrats who were either looking to move up and maybe run for [Warren’s] seat or might have taken an appointment in a Clinton administration will take a fresh look in the governor’s race,” Marsh said.

Democrats’ last gubernatorial nominee, former attorney general Martha Coakley, holds the dubious distinction of having lost two seats considered eminently winnable: the governor’s office to Baker in 2014 and the US Senate seat to Republican Scott Brown in 2010.

Chastened, the Democrats want a strong contender to face the popular sitting governor — who garnered 69 percent approval in a Globe poll in October — and they have no obvious standardbearer. But Marsh and others pointed to potential contenders, including US Representatives Joseph P. Kennedy III, Katherine Clark, and Seth Moulton. In a hypothetical matchup against Baker, Kennedy pulled even at 33 percent, according to a UMass Amherst/WBZ survey of about 400 registered voters released in September.


“Everyone talks about there’s no Democratic bench. I take great exception to that,” Marsh said. “In the wake of this election, that is not true. No one’s got a deeper bench than Massachusetts.”

Others believed to be weighing a run include Joe Avellone , a health care executive who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2014, and outgoing state Senator Dan Wolf , the founder and CEO of Cape Air whose 2014 run for governor was aborted by an ethics ruling that found his ownership stake in Cape Air presented a conflict of interest because the firm has business relationships with the state. The commission later created an exemption for people in his situation.

Wolf has criticized the Baker administration for lacking longterm vision and emphasizing short-term budget management.

Another Democratic political consultant, Scott Ferson, said his party’s candidates should focus on their own vision for the state rather than trying to take down Baker.

“I strongly think we shouldn’t run against Charlie Baker,” Ferson said. “It’s hard to beat competent management. We have to provide a vision for leadership.”

Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Stephanie.Ebbert@globe.com.