It’s way too soon to wonder who will run for Massachusetts governor in 2022. Or is it?
And now . . . 2022.
In Massachusetts, where politics is both blood sport and parlor game, it’s never too early to think about who might run for governor in four years.
Okay, okay, it’s too early! But days after Governor Charlie Baker won a resounding reelection victory, political insiders, prodded by the Globe, are already talking about who might run next time around.
In interviews with 22 of them (22 on ’22!), Attorney General Maura T. Healey, a Democrat who just won a second term, is beloved by the grass roots, and has cut something of a national profile, is running a mile ahead of the pack.
High on the lists, too, are Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, a Democrat who would be up for reelection in 2021, and Lieutenant Governor Karyn E. Polito, who would be a GOP favorite if Baker decides not to seek a third term.
“Maura is the only one who has a path to 2022 without any sort of intermediate steps that need to be taken,” said Jay Cincotti, a Democratic operative. “As we sit here, if Maura announces that she is running for governor — today — she puts a tremendous amount of pressure on others, and I think she clears the field.”
But there’s no guarantee that she or any of the expected contenders run, and the list of might-be hopefuls definitely doesn’t end there.
Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy III, 38, is usually seen as a future senator, but insiders don’t rule out a corner office run. Businesspeople with progressive bona fides such as Jeffrey J. Bussgang, 49, cofounder of Flybridge Capital Partners, a venture capital firm, are on several people’s lists. So, too, are former Democratic elected officials such as Benjamin B. Downing, a 37-year-old who served in the state Senate for a decade and now works at solar company Nexamp Inc.
“I don’t think you can wait too long in politics these days. Things move so quickly,” said Phil Johnston, a Democratic state party veteran and former chairman. “But four years is a long time.”
To be sure, a host of political variables separate now and 2022, any of which could upend the gubernatorial guessing game. For one, does Baker, who turned 62 Tuesday, seek a third term? (He called such talk “really premature.”) Does Walsh? Will the race for the Senate seat now held by Edward J. Markey feature a Democratic primary, giving pols an earlier outlet for their higher-office ambitions?
And, of course, who wins the White House in 2020? A Democratic president could woo a leading Massachusetts figure to the Cabinet.
And (and!) will statewide officials, such as longtime Secretary of State William F. Galvin, decide to hang up their political spurs, creating new opportunities for lesser-known pols?
The insiders mentioned a younger generation of elected officials who could harness a millennial desire for fresh leadership aiming for governor or,more likely, another post. Among them: Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu, 33, state Senator Eric P. Lesser, 33, and Holyoke Mayor Alex B. Morse, 29, all Democrats.
And the state’s congressional delegation has no shortage of big-name Democrats, headlined by Representatives Kennedy, Katherine M. Clark, and Seth Moulton. But with the House now back in Democratic control, insiders see them as more likely to remain in D.C. to continue building clout there.
Kennedy has flashed interest in one day making a bid for the Senate; Clark, 55, is ascendant in the House Democratic caucus; and Moulton, 40, is cultivating a broader profile, including openly opposing
his own party’s House leadership.
One other limiting factor for almost every might-be candidate who isn’t named Healey, Walsh, or Polito could be money.
The lieutenant governor had $1.1 million in her campaign account at the end of October, the attorney general had more than $2.3 million, and Walsh was sitting flush with $2.7 million. The mayor also had an additional $1.5 million in a savings account.
Healey is already considered by many to be the state’s most popular Democratic elected official not named Elizabeth Warren. She’s built a reputation as a fierce Trump critic, filing or joining more than 30 legal challenges against the Republican administration, and already has made history as the first openly gay state attorney general elected in the United States. And she’s made savvy political choices recently, such as breaking with most party leaders to endorse Ayanna Pressley’s successful long-shot bid to knock off incumbent Congressman Michael E. Capuano.
“I’m going to focus on doing the job at hand right now,” Healey, 47, said last week. “I’ll leave it to pundits and others to speculate and chat.” (They do.)
Walsh, for his part, easily won reelection last year and could run for a third term in 2021. But he says that decision and the gubernatorial one are too many chapters ahead.
“2021, 2022, it’s too far away right now,” Walsh, 51, said. “I take my life, literally, try to take it a day at a time. . . . Next could be reelection, next could be something else. I don’t know what it is.” (Insiders: It’s politics.)
Count Polito, too, among the similarly taciturn. As lieutenant governors before her, she’s widely seen as a natural choice to vie for the GOP nomination if Baker decides against trying for a third consecutive four-year term.
“We’ve discussed a lot of things about the next four years,” Polito, 52, said of she and Baker, adding that she’s “just excited to build on” their first term. “That’s really where my focus is, like a laser beam, on what we’re going to do next.” (TBD.)
There are several from the business world thought of as 2022 gubernatorial prospects. Among them are Bussgang, the venture capitalist; former US senator William “Mo” Cowan, 49, a top executive at General Electric; and Robert F. Rivers, 54, the chairman and chief executive of Eastern Bank and a leader in the successful campaign to keep legal protections in place for transgender people in Massachusetts.
On the Republican side, Brian Shortsleeve, the venture capitalist and former MBTA general manager, has been eyed as a future political candidate.
There are Democratic municipal leaders, such as Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, 52, who was first elected in 2005, and Framingham Mayor Yvonne M. Spicer, 56, sworn in this year as the first popularly elected African-American woman mayor in Massachusetts history.
Wu, the city councilor, is seen as eyeing a run for higher office. But insiders believe she’s more likely to run for the top spot at City Hall than governor.
Also on insiders’ gubernatorial lists: Morse, the wunderkind who graduated from Brown University, came back home to Holyoke, and became the youngest mayor in the city’s history in 2012.
Then, of course, there might be folks further down the political bench, or completely off the political radar who might take a leap.
“Waiting your turn, standing in line — that’s old news,” said John E. Walsh, a Democratic strategist who helped a little-known Milton lawyer named Deval Patrick defy the odds to become governor of Massachusetts in 2006.
Clarification: An earlier version of this story failed to note that in addition to the $2.7 million Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh had in his campaign account, he also had another $1.5 million in separate campaign savings.