Charles D. Baker, the GOP’s defeated 2010 candidate, will announce a second gubernatorial campaign Wednesday, according to three top Massachusetts Republican leaders briefed on his decision, a highly anticipated move that party insiders see as critical to Republican hopes of recapturing the governor’s office.
Baker, who held top Cabinet posts in the administrations of William F. Weld and Paul Cellucci, plans to roll out his candidacy for the 2014 election in a video to be released at 10 a.m. Baker will not hold a media availability until Thursday, but Weld, his political mentor, is expected to speak to reporters Wednesday.
His decision to run will shape the emerging race for governor that already has five Democrats seeking their party’s nomination. Without Baker, the GOP would have been looking at a thin bench of viable candidates. Former senator Scott Brown’s recent announcement that he would not run for the office highlighted the party’s heavy reliance on Baker getting into the race.
By confronting Democrats with a well-known and experienced candidate, Baker’s entrance also poses a test of Governor Deval Patrick’s political legacy, and of whether Massachusetts voters have wearied of one-party rule on Beacon Hill after eight years.
Baker has been courting Democratic insiders, according to well-placed strategists in both parties, a sign of his efforts to cultivate a more moderate demographic of voters.
One strategist who is said to play a role in Baker’s campaign is Will Keyser, a public relations executive who was communications director to the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy and chief of staff for former congressman Martin Meehan, both Democrats. Keyser is helping to shape Baker’s message in Wednesday’s announcement.
Baker did not respond to calls seeking comment about his pending announcement.
At 56, Baker had long been considered a rising star in the Massachusetts political and government world, but his efforts to appeal to conservatives in his failed 2010 bid to unseat Patrick scarred his image as a bipartisan moderate who could appeal to centrist independents and Democrats.
His 2010 campaign for governor sought to channel anti-incumbent sentiment and dissatisfaction with the sluggish economy. His slogan, “Had Enough?” hinted at the outrage he was hoping to tap, but seemed to clash with his analytical style, and with the warm, aspirational rhetoric that is Patrick’s hallmark.
On matters of policy, Baker promised to cut the corporate, income, and sales tax rates to 5 percent to revive the state economy. He vowed to slim state government by laying off 5,000 state workers, cutting the number of health and human services agencies, and asking chains like CVS to take over some of the transactions handled by the Registry of Motor Vehicles. He also embraced same sex marriage and abortion rights.
Democrats, pointing to his $1.7 million salary at Harvard Pilgrim, painted him as wealthy and out of touch, and mobilized a massive grass-roots operation against him. Patrick won the race with 48 percent of the vote to Baker’s 42 percent. An independent candidate, Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, received 8 percent of the vote, and Baker said after the election that Cahill “made our already narrow window that much narrower.”
He also blamed his loss on Patrick’s political skills, lower-than-expected energy among Republicans, and swing voters turned off by the rise of conservative Republicans nationally.
But post-election analysis laid much of the blame on Baker’s often strident appeals to the conservative right. One of the keys to the 2014 election will be his ability to tap support from across party lines and from moderate independents because of his progressive positions on social, human services, and environmental issues.
Like Weld, Baker is an advocate of conservative fiscal policies and liberal social views. But he has acknowledged that he lacks Weld’s easygoing charm and sometimes struggles to connect with workaday voters. Democratic and Republican analysts said that Baker’s chances of winning will depend on his modulating the hard-edged image he projected in his first run.
Indeed, indications suggest that Baker — with some counseling from Weld — is ready to run a far different campaign. For example, those familiar with his thinking said he will not sign a no-new-tax pledge as he did in 2010. He will also push hard on issues important to female voters — a bloc that voted heavily against him.
“It’s going to be a very different Charlie Baker,’’ said former state senator Warren Tolman, a Democratic candidate for governor in 2002. “He is a likable guy. If he shows that, he will be very formidable.’’
Richard Tisei, the former state Senate minority leader who ran for lieutenant governor on the GOP’s 2010 ticket, said Baker has absorbed the lessons of his failed candidacy and will now run a more effective campaign that allows his true personality to come through.
“Charlie realizes during the first time, voters didn’t get a good feel for who is and what he is all about,’’ said Tisei, noting Baker’s reputation for both his deep grasp of public policy and his affable personality, even among some of his strongest opponents. “It’s just a question of letting Charlie be Charlie. He doesn’t need to be packaged, he just needs to be himself.’’
Baker got his start in politics in the early 1980s, as a spokesman for the Massachusetts High Tech Council, a business lobby. He then joined the Pioneer Institute, a conservative think tank. Weld hired Baker into his new administration in 1991, and the young policy aide quickly moved up the ranks, serving as health and human services secretary and then administration and finance secretary, in charge of the state budget. Within the administration, he had a reputation as a boy wonder, with a penchant for holding long staff meetings on subjects ranging from tax reform to special education.
During that time, he was also an architect of the Big Dig financing plan, a fact that came back to haunt his 2010 gubernatorial bid when it became a main target of attack by Patrick. Baker left the State House in 1998 to lead Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates. He then spent 10 years as chief executive of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, and was credited with helping to rescue the company from the edge of financial ruin. He remained involved in politics, though on a much smaller scale, as a selectman in his hometown of Swampscott.
After the 2010 election, he joined General Catalyst Partners, a venture capital firm in Cambridge. His work there has kept him out of the public eye, but it included a well-publicized $17 million equity financing deal for Oceans Healthcare, Louisiana’s largest provider of psychiatric facilities for geriatric patients. As part of the deal, Baker became chairman of the company’s board.
Baker, who grew up in Needham, comes from a politically involved family. His mother was a liberal Democrat and his father, Charles D. Baker, served as undersecretary of health and human services in the Reagan administration and as undersecretary of transportation during the Nixon years. He has remarked that family dinners first exposed him to intense political debates.
Baker played basketball at Harvard, and graduated with a degree in English in 1979. In 1986, he earned a master’s degree in business administration from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He is married and a father of three.
Frank Phillips can be reached at email@example.com.