Governor Charlie Baker hasn’t held a fund-raiser for Geoff Diehl or Jay McMahon, his advisers say. He hasn’t organized joint campaign stops with his two fellow Republicans. Even as Baker’s campaign pours hundreds of thousands of dollars into the state party, his endorsements of his ticket-mates often sound more like admissions than declarations.
And yet, the state Republican party’s most popular figure has a problem: He seemingly can’t run away from them fast enough.
Even as he enjoys stratospheric polling ahead of Tuesday’s election, Baker’s support of the Massachusetts GOP ticket sticks to him like a stubborn early-November cold — and one his challenger, Jay Gonzalez, has happily inflamed on the race’s biggest stages.
It resurfaced this week in their final debate, where Gonzalez repeatedly challenged the governor on his party backing, specifically of Diehl, the US Senate nominee, and McMahon, the attorney general nominee. It prompted a defensive Baker to underline where his record differs from two of the party’s top candidates, for both of whom he said he’s voting even though they are more conservative than the governor on a myriad of issues.
McMahon backs President Trump and has campaigned as a staunch gun rights advocate. Baker said he didn’t vote for Trump and has signed legislation tightening the state’s already stringent gun laws.
Diehl, a conservative state representative who opposes abortion rights, said he’d vote to repeal the transgender protection measure. Baker has repeatedly underscored that he supports abortion rights and signed a law barring discrimination against transgender people in public spaces.
Down by more than 40 points in one poll, Gonzalez seized on the dichotomy, painting Baker as “blindly supporting” the GOP.
Asked after the debate if he feels his own ticket is weighing him down, Baker didn’t directly answer: “In the end, I do believe voters in Massachusetts will make their decision on this race based on the performance and the work and the vision that the lieutenant governor and I have put forth for the last four years,” he said.
To be sure, Baker’s party ties go well beyond public endorsements. Just this week, he and running mate, Karyn Polito, gave a combined $250,000 to the Republican State Committee, and since 2016, their campaigns have funneled $360,000 into the state account.
Terry MacCormack, a Baker campaign spokesman, said they made the most recent donations after the MassGOP sent a direct mailer to voters on their behalf.
And the money flows in as the party also operates dozens of so-called victory offices across the state to help down-ballot candidates, such as McMahon, organize and, as Baker put it to reporters on Friday, “compete” on Election Day.
But Baker’s campaign also notes how few direct lines he’s drawn to Diehl and McMahon. Since the Sept. 4 primary, Baker has appeared with them only at the Plymouth County GOP’s post-primary unity breakfast — an event Baker’s campaign noted was organized by the group, not him or the state party. The event was closed to the press.
Baker also isn’t planning any events with either of them before Election Day, while Democrats, Gonzalez included, are happily organizing rallies for this weekend together.
He’s attended at least three events with his party’s ticket-leader, Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has also given more than $1 million to the Massachusetts Democrat’s coordinated campaign that’s providing field workers to help all the party’s state and federal candidates, Gonzalez included.
In fact, on the Democratic side, everyone is embracing each other — literally, in Gonzalez’s case, as he appeared with two prominent Massachusetts Democrats at a get-out-the-vote event in Arlington Friday night.
“Jay is fantastic! He’s been out there working so hard,” gushed Attorney General Maura Healey, passing him the microphone with a hug at the Sons of Italy Lodge. Next to her, Representative Katherine Clark, a Melrose Democrat, applauded for him, along with the several dozen supporters.
Gonzalez said Baker’s endorsements of Diehl and McMahon matter even if he isn’t actively stumping for the candidates.
“It matters,” he said at a campaign event at a Dorchester construction site earlier Friday “because he’s the governor of Massachusetts, and he is asking the people of this state to send someone to replace Elizabeth Warren to the United States Senate who would do everything in his power to undercut a woman’s right to choose, LGBTQ rights, drive a pro-NRA agenda.”
McMahon, who’s challenging Healey, brushed off Gonzalez’s attempts to negatively tie him to Baker.
“He’s like a fighter that had a couples of punches in him. He’s swinging at whatever shadows he sees, hoping to make contact,” he said.
As for Baker, McMahon said he’s not bothered if his public endorsement hasn’t come with additional, more tangible help. “As far as the different positions I take, the governor has been great,” he said. “I have not heard the governor criticize any of the positions I have taken.”
Diehl, campaigning Friday in Plymouth, also down-played the dynamic, saying he’s expressed his support of Baker, and Baker has stuck to backing the ticket.
“You don’t necessarily have to be on the same stage to be on the same page with the governor,” he said.
They are, of course, not the only Republicans Baker has endorsed. He’s also waded into congressional races, backing Rick Green, the nominee in the open Third District; Joseph Schneider, who’s challenging Representative Seth Moulton in the Sixth District; and Peter Tedeschi, who’s running against Representative William Keating in the Ninth.
But even that push to put more Republicans on Capitol Hill comes with caution: Pressed twice, Baker wouldn’t say Friday whether he wants the GOP to keep full control of Congress.
“People have to make their own case to the voters,” he said.