Metro

Praise from Democrats is making Baker harder to hit

Boston, MA - 05/22/18 - Governor Charlie Baker applauds Mayor Marty Walsh after Walsh spoke at the gathering. Omni Hotels officials, Mayor Walsh, Gov. Baker, and other dignitaries met to pretend to break ground on the Omni hotel project across the street from the convention center in the Seaport District. (Lane Turner/Globe Staff) Reporter: (Jon Chesto) Topic: (23omni)
Lane Turner/Globe Staff
Governor Charlie Baker applauded Mayor Marty Walsh after Walsh spoke at a gathering.

Attorney General Maura T. Healey has lavished praise on his work to battle opioid abuse.

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh gushed this year about his “incredible accomplishments.”

Representative Katherine M. Clark gave him a respectable B+, calling him “hard working” and “a really nice guy.”

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The hosannas would swell the ego of any politician, but these plaudits from top Democrats are all the more unusual because of their target, Republican Governor Charlie Baker, whose campaign is now weaponizing such praise for political use.

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As Jay Gonzalez and Bob Massie ramp up their gubernatorial campaigns, they are confronting the difficulty of trying to knock down a politician their own Democratic brothers and sisters have so many times lifted up.

And the Baker campaign is already pointing reporters toward friendly quotes from Democrats to respond to attacks on his record, such as those leveled at the state party convention last week by Healey and other Democratic officials.

Baker advisers acknowledge that they have been keeping track of the commendations, and are keenly aware of the value of the kind words from the other side of the aisle, as well as the fact that most of them are on video.

The praise — sometimes tempered, sometimes not — has come throughout his term from all levels of Democratic officials.

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“I think he’s doing a good job,” said Senator Edward J. Markey in September 2015.

“That first year in office, where he was dealing with everything from the T to snowstorms to crashing computer systems all around him,” said then-Senate president Stanley C. Rosenberg in 2016, “we know he can manage, and he knows how to do the right thing when it comes to making sure that management decisions are arrived at fairly quickly.”

“Charlie, I think, is very popular and is doing a good job,” said Rhode Island Governor Gina M. Raimondo in February.

(Raimondo is vice chairwoman of the national group focused on electing Democratic governors, the Democratic Governors Association. Her praise for Baker came after an event trumpeting her party’s prospects for winning gubernatorial races.)

“I like that he’s no drama,” Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera, who has endorsed Baker’s reelection bid, said in April.

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To be sure, much of the praise has come with caveats, and many of those who have lauded the governor have said they don’t agree with him on every issue.

And, with the election drawing near, some Democrats believe more elected officials are taking Baker to account.

“We see a real shift,” said Gonzalez, one of the two Democratic candidates for governor. “Democrats, including top elected officials, realize that Charlie Baker is only there for the privileged and the powerful.”

Indeed, Healey who has been mostly reserved in her comments about the governor since 2015, took a whack at Baker last week, saying “time and again the governor retreats to poll-tested safety rather than take on the tough fights and lead.”

Massie, for his part, said Democrats have complimented Baker “for taking minimal steps on housing, energy, transportation, and education. Now they need to recognize that this same governor is raising millions [in] dark money for [President] Trump and Trump’s brutal agenda.”

State Democratic Party chairman Gus Bickford said that old praise of Baker from Democrats “will be outdated” by the general election season because many of the people who said it will not be supporting Baker after Labor Day, instead getting behind the party’s nominee. The primary is Sept. 4.

But analysts say the cycle of praise begetting praise may be tough to break.

“It makes a run a lot harder for the Democrats who are challenging Charlie Baker,” said Steve Koczela, a Boston-based pollster who conducted many surveys that have included Baker in them over the last eight years. “It makes for a circular set of influences: the candidates have trouble raising money, trouble getting name identification, and then Democratic leaders don’t want to spend time, effort, and political capital on a losing campaign. That set of things becomes mutually reinforcing at some point.”

Koczela — who leads the MassINC Polling Group, which found Baker besting his competitors by 40 percentage points each in a recent survey — said he sees the effect in polling, where a comfortable majority of Democrats approve of Baker. “Democratic leaders don’t want to step out on a limb and criticize someone their voters by-and-large like,” he said.

Still, there is annoyance with the praise among the Democratic grass roots.

Charley Blandy, an activist and cofounder of Blue Mass Group, the state’s top progressive blog, said the din of Democratic praise “is frustrating a bit. I understand where that comes from and I understand as the state’s bureaucrat-in-chief, that Baker has cultivated a cooperative relationship with various officials, including the [Boston] mayor and including members of Congress.”

Blandy expressed a desire for Democrats to more forcefully call out Baker’s “lack of ambition, an agenda that doesn’t comport with the gravity of the problems we face.”

But party graybeards note that in this environment — with a relatively good economy, low unemployment, and relative bipartisanship on Beacon Hill compared to Capitol Hill— elected officials don’t feel particularly moved to speak out against the governor. And that will be tough for Gonzalez or Massie.

“It’s really difficult when many Democrats are either sitting it out or are openly supporting the governor for a variety of reasons, including their perception that he’s doing a pretty good job,” said Steve Grossman, a former state and national Democratic party chairman, former state treasurer, and a 2014 Democratic candidate for governor.

Grossman said that while there are some people who would say Baker’s not doing a good job, and the candidates made that position very clear, “an overwhelming number of people from every part of the political spectrum believe that in these challenging times, Massachusetts is doing pretty well . . . and that the governor is, to some extent, the architect of this era of good feeling in Massachusetts.”

It’s a sentiment — and a quote — the Baker campaign will surely squirrel away, potentially for use in a political ad somewhere down the line.

Stephanie Ebbert of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com.