The 2018 governor’s race has nearly gone missing. Even Governor Charlie Baker must be wondering when the campaign starts.
Deep into the summer, well after the conventions, the most important race on the November ballot remains an afterthought. It’s so understated that it is being overshadowed by not one, but two congressional races. That sounds impossible, but it’s happening.
Yes, the state’s low-key governor entered the race for reelection with high approval ratings, running against competition that did not seem particularly daunting on paper. Yes, he always figured to outraise his opponents by a significant margin.
But he’s still a Republican in a state with approximately 27 registered Republican voters. Surely the Democratic Party — if only out of institutional pride — would put up a good fight against his reelection.
If so, they might want to get going.
Baker’s campaign announced this week — or, perhaps, strategically leaked — that it has reserved $4.3 million in television time this fall, with more to come. To put that number into perspective, one of his Democratic rivals, Jay Gonzalez, has a bit under $200,000 in cash on hand. The other, Bob Massie, has $29,000 in the bank — barely enough to cover the down payment on a medium-priced Dorchester condo.
Money is not necessarily a foolproof measure of campaign strength by any means. But it’s surprising that politically active Democrats have shown their candidates so little support. Baker is preparing an air war, while his opponents are barely raising enough to run a campaign for Boston City Council.
Maybe they aren’t household names, but Gonzalez and Massie are not weak candidates. Gonzalez was a major Cabinet secretary in the Patrick administration. Massie has a varied resume that includes being the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 1994. True, he and his running mate, Mark Roosevelt, got demolished by Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci, but that’s beside the point. Gonzalez and Massie aren’t nobodies.
Both insist that Baker’s popularity is exaggerated, and that the race will tighten.
“I’m running a grass-roots campaign,” Gonzalez said. “We’re not going to raise $30 million in dark money like Charlie Baker, but we’re going to raise enough to compete.”
Gonzalez charged that Baker’s fund-raising will leave him beholden to his donors, and that his prolific fund-raising violates the “spirit” of the state’s campaign finance laws. He says he will win by knocking on more doors. That’s a tough way to win a statewide race.
If Gonzalez has a money problem, Massie has a crisis. Massie told me he thinks Democrats in Massachusetts have been distracted by the horror show in Washington and have only begun to focus on the governor’s race.
“I think people are overwhelmed by the tragedy and outrage of the Trump administration,” he said. “And I don’t think people think governor’s races are as important as they really are.”
Massie said he will continue to pound away on his themes that the state must do more to prepare for the future and to address economic inequality.
“In the end, my job is to be as clear as I can about who I am, what I’ve done, and how those experiences can be relied upon when I take on big structural challenges,” Massie said.
The immediate challenge is to find a message that resonates against a popular incumbent. To some extent, Baker must be given his due. He has succeeded in selling himself as a stable and serious steward of state government. Though I think he is risk-averse to a serious fault — a good governor who is capable of being a far better governor — his opponents have struggled to ignite even their own natural allies.
Maybe the donors think they can flip a switch around Labor Day, or maybe they’re waiting for the Maura Healey For Governor campaign four years from now.
But for now, this is the race of Charlie Baker’s dreams.Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter @adrian_walker.