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Is Massachusetts ‘an island’? Voters debate role of Trump in race for governor

President Donald Trump arrived for a "Make America Great Again" campaign rally at McKenzie Arena, in Chattanooga, Tenn. on Sunday.
President Donald Trump arrived for a "Make America Great Again" campaign rally at McKenzie Arena, in Chattanooga, Tenn. on Sunday.(NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

Spend our money wisely. Make the trains run on time. Fight the opioid crisis. Fight Trump!

The bar Massachusetts’ voters have set for their next governor is at once lofty and grounded, both varied and shared. And, well, it may just be plain and simple.

“Don’t do too much damage,” said Florence Curran, a 79-year-old Reading resident and unenrolled voter, who admits there isn’t a hot-button issue that is driving her choice for governor.

Massachusetts has had 72 governors since 1780, and come Tuesday, voters will face another four-year choice: Charlie Baker, the Republican incumbent touting bipartisan fiscal stewardship, and Jay Gonzalez, the Democratic ex-budget chief pitching a new-tax platform.

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The winner will have the reins of a state with a humming economy, highly regarded education system, still-raging drug epidemic, and hotly debated — and oft-derided — public transportation network.

And they better get it right: Nearly 70 percent of voters think the state is heading in the right direction. It’s a view that, through a series of Globe interviews with voters last week, appears to underscore the thinking of many as Election Day nears.

“There’s a part of me that feels, here in Massachusetts, we are on an island,” Mary Di Schino, of Arlington, said in comparison to political unrest gripping other parts of the country. To her, that means this election doesn’t feel “as critical here as the rest” of the United States.

“I kind of trust this governor,” Di Schino, an unenrolled voter, added. Standing outside the Whole Foods Market in Woburn, she jokingly covered her mouth after saying she’s voting for the Republican. “Party affiliation is not important to me,” she added.

Jim Modena, a Newton Democrat, said he’d actually like to see “more Republicans that are reasonable.”

“For me, it’s a feeling he’s doing a good job,” said Modena, 64, of Baker. It’s not a vote against Gonzalez, he added. “I just didn’t hear enough reason to vote for him.”

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Gonzalez, who worked under then-Governor Deval Patrick, has called on voters to “aim high,” arguing Baker has not offered an expansive vision about what government can do.

He wants to move the state toward a single-payer health care system and eventually generate $3 billion in new revenue annually for transportation and education investments by taxing the endowment of the state’s wealthiest colleges and pursuing a surtax on those making $1 million or more.

Baker has leaned on his record, saying he’s making needed investments in the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, including commuter rail services, and charted a course to battle the state’s opioid woes. And he’s rejected Gonzalez’s accusation that he’s a “status quo” governor, pointing, for example, to his pursuit of a mammoth wind energy project.

Still, others say they’re looking for more. Allison Nelson, 31-year-old scientist from Somerville, said she is backing Gonzalez because he is the more progressive choice.

“I feel like he is thinking bigger, as a Massachusetts candidate should be doing,” she said.

Kirsten Chervinsky, a 56-year-old nurse from Somerville, said she can’t look past the ‘R’ next to Baker’s name.

“In my opinion, no Republican is enough anti-Trump,” she said. “This is not the election year to be supporting any Republicans and giving them comfort. This is a year to make a statement.”

Jennifer Jones, a 42-year-old Woburn Democrat, said she wants a governor who is “assertive about what our values are.” Massachusetts, she said, should be a “trend-setter.”

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It’s why she said she’s voting for Gonzalez over Baker. “He’s really soft on his decision-making,” she said of the incumbent, who blanked his ballot instead of voting for Trump in 2016 but has been criticized by some Democrats for not more forcefully opposing his fellow Republican. “He’s not standing up to Trump,” she said.

Not all Democrats, however, cite the Trump factor in their gubernatorial decision-making.

Eddie Rosa, a 31-year-old Lawrence Democrat, said he gives Baker points for his response to the gas explosions that ricocheted through the Merrimack Valley in September.

“Other folks don’t show up all the time,” he said of elected leaders. But he saw Baker in Lawrence over several days and felt he acted with immediacy. “Charlie Baker comes through. It stood out for me.”

Bob Robbins, a Back Bay resident and registered Democrat, is voting for Baker. But, he emphasized, the governor “will be the only Republican I vote for.”

Coming out of the Trader Joe’s in Brookline’s Coolidge Corner, Robbins said the governor is a “much more moderate Republican.” And he cited Baker’s stances on the environment, health care, and schools as important factors in his vote.

“I think what we have is fine,” Paul McGrath, 72, said outside Market Basket in Reading. The unenrolled voter said he’s backing Baker because he “seems to be level-headed and gets things done,” including taking steps to fight the opioid crisis.

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Dawn Fisher, a 52-year-old registered Republican from Andover, said she wants a governor who is focused on controlling spending and committed to governmental transparency. “That resonates with me,” she said outside the Andover Whole Foods.

Michael Laffan, a 78-year-old Winchester Democrat, said his choice for governor is rooted in one primary issue: public transportation.

“Because I use it,” he said. He rides the commuter rail every week. And the verdict?

“This governor has stabilized it,” Laffan said. “I think a lot of the problems got highlighted after he was in [office].”

Gonzalez has made investing more in the MBTA a central focus of his own campaign, arguing Baker is moving too slowly in making the system reliable. Laffan said he’s read a “little bit” about the Democrat but is still leaning toward Baker.

“I’m in favor of him continuing,” Laffan said.


Joshua Miller and James Pindell of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.