Murray adds to the buzz over 2014 governor’s race

Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray (right) at a State House ceremony on Sept. 11. (GLOBE FILE)

Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray made a high-profile declaration on Thursday that he is taking a serious look at the 2014 governor’s race, a reminder to the political class that the earliest stage of the campaign has begun, with would-be-candidates floating their names and assessing their chances.

The list is fairly thin so far, and includes potential candidates —Senator Scott Brown among them — who may also be in the mix for John F. Kerry’s US Senate seat, should he be named to a Cabinet post. Some other potential candidates are already taking themselves out of the running. Suzanne Bump, for example, said in an interview Thursday that she would focus on winning reelection as auditor.

Others who have expressed interest or are being talked about include Charles D. Baker, the Republican who lost to Governor Deval Patrick in 2010, as well as Democrats Martha Coakley, the attorney general, Steven Grossman, the treasurer, and Carmen Ortiz, the US Attorney.

But Murray’s speech Thursday in front of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce set down a marker; it was also an attempt by the politically ailing lieutenant governor to continue a campaign to rehabilitate his image.

For more than a year, Murray has been under scrutiny, primarily for his close political connection to a controversial former Chelsea Housing Authority director who is under federal and state investigation, but also for a mysterious early-morning car crash that left his state-issued Ford Crown Victoria a smoldering heap of metal. Black-box data showed that he was driving at more than 100 miles per hour and without a seat belt.

Since those issues erupted, Murray has kept a lower profile on Beacon Hill, focusing on regional events meant to reinforce his image as busy figure in the Patrick administration.

On Thursday, while addressing the lobbyists and business leaders at the chamber breakfast at the InterContinental Boston, Murray demurred on his timetable for announcing a candidacy for governor while acknowledging, “I would like to be governor.”

In remarks that sounded much like a campaign speech preview, he lauded the accomplishments of the Patrick administration and the role he has played on issues such as housing and homelessness, veterans’ services, domestic violence, substance abuse, rail and freight, municipal matters, and education. Addresses to the chamber often serve as forums for high-profile announcements and political coming-out events.

After his speech, Murray told reporters that his decision about running for governor would be a personal one.

“I’ve been around the state more than anybody perhaps other than the governor the last six years,” he said. “I know the issues. I know the people. I know the challenges. And I know the opportunities. I’m not going to rush into anything. I’m going to make my decision in due course.”

Murray’s popularity suffered earlier this year, evidence by a Globe poll in March indicating that 30 percent of respondents viewed him unfavorably compared with 29 percent who viewed him favorably. An October poll showed some improvement, with 27 percent offering a favorable opinion compared with 22 percent who said they viewed him unfavorably. Though he is known as a prodigious fund-raiser, he would need far more than the $246,165 now in his campaign account to mount a campaign for the corner office.

Still, he is better known than some of his would-be competitors. Grossman elicited a favorable response from 20 percent of respondents in October, compared with 9 percent who said they had an unfavorable opinion. More than half of voters said they did not know enough to comment.

Grossman has more money in his state campaign account, $321,273, than the others who have been mentioned. Through a spokesman, he declined Thursday to comment on his plans. But he has said in recent weeks that he would decide over the next couple of months.

In a late-October interview with the State House News Service, Grossman attempted to frame the issue himself. “Steve’s going to take a hard look at running for governor in 2014 — that would be an entirely accurate statement,” he said.

Coakley, on the other hand, would enter the race with instant name recognition and popularity, despite her high-profile loss to Brown in the 2010 special election for Senate. The Globe’s October poll showed 49 percent of those surveyed said they viewed her favorably, compared with 27 percent expressing an unfavorable view. With $214,506 in her state campaign account, she would also need to accelerate fund-raising to make a serious run.

A top adviser said Thursday that Coakley has not completely ruled out entering the race but is leaning toward seeking a third term as attorney general.

Among those Democrats mentioned, Ortiz may be the least conventional. Her office is investigating the state Probation Department, which could be awkward if she were to enter the political fray as a participant.

“Ms. Ortiz plans to continue in her role as US attorney and remains focused on advancing the mission of the Department,” her spokeswoman, Christina DiIorio-Sterling, said in an e-mail.

The Republican field is much clearer, with the potential that Baker could clear the field if he chooses to make a second attempt for the office.

“That’s the one on the tip of everybody’s tongue that’s for sure,” said Timothy Buckley, the state party spokesman. “Charlie Baker has a lot of fans who would like to see him take another run.”

Buckley said Baker was very active in helping Republican legislative candidates in the recent election. He also served on as a campaign chairman for Richard R. Tisei, his running mate in 2010, who lost a bid this month to unseat US Representative John F. Tierney.

Baker did not return two phone calls and an e-mail seeking comment. His campaign account is down to $76,521. Because he is not an elected official, he has not been raising money.

Baker would also have to reintroduce himself to voters. The October Globe poll indicated that more than half of the respondents did not know who he is. Just 19 percent had a favorable opinion of him, compared with 15 percent who had an unfavorable opinion.

The other major factor on the Republican side is Brown, who is still considering his political future following his defeat this month to Elizabeth Warren. If Kerry joins President Obama’s Cabinet, Brown may choose to run for the Senate again in another special election. If not, he may weigh a bid for governor.

His spokeswoman, Marcie Kinzel, declined to comment on his plans, referring instead to comments Brown made on Tuesday when he was asked whether he was interested in either job.

“I have a job to do right now. And there is not an opening right now for governor, nor is there an opening for senator. But there is an opening for a dad and husband,” he said. “Life doesn’t end when you lose an election.”

Frank Phillips of the Globe staff contributed. Noah Bierman can be reached at nbierman@
Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at s_ebbert@