What do women want from a candidate who wants to be their next governor?
Not what Republican Charlie Baker offered at a recent “Women for Charlie” event.
The softball queries from family, friends, and running mate Karyn Polito were silly and insulting to female voters he is targeting — and so were the candidate’s answers.
That’s the judgment of a horrified Baker supporter who called afterwards to say that when it comes to talking to women in settings like that, her candidate needs an intervention. So here it is.
The canned questions at Thursday’s event were designed to bridge the gender gap between female voters and the former health insurance executive. They were supposed to show he has heart. The diagnosis of Baker’s political challenge is correct, but the fix is wrong.
No one doubts Baker’s love of family. The issue is what he will do for other families, especially those who are not as lucky as his own. But instead of fielding questions that would speak to his policy commitments, he took one like this from Polito: “What is something you want to do on a personal level after you are elected?”
And yes, Baker did actually joke, “I’m going to Disneyland” — before launching a long riff about the drain of campaigns on families and his desire to do “something fun with my wife and kids” when he is governor-elect.
Meanwhile, Baker ducked the one tough question he got. It came after the event from Fox 25’s Sharman Sacchetti, who asked whether Baker believes NFL commissioner Roger Goodell should be fired after the domestic violence incident involving former Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice. “If we fired everybody every time we got into one of these situations, I don’t know, I would like to see more data and more information,” said Baker. So much for heart.
Last month, Politico revealed the findings of a report commissioned by two major Republican groups — including one backed by Karl Rove — which concluded female voters view the party as “intolerant,” “lacking in compassion,” and “stuck in the past.”
Suggested solutions included trying to show that Republicans do support fairness for women, and an acknowledgment of differences on abortion — followed by an effort to divert to other issues.
On the national level, that means “Republican candidates are falling madly in love with contraception,” wrote New York Times columnist Gail Collins, about the current GOP penchant for shout-outs in favor of over-the-counter birth control pills.
Baker is pro-choice. Still, according to a recent WBUR poll, Democratic rival, Martha Coakley, holds a 20-point advantage over him with female voters. In 2010, women also backed incumbent Governor Deval Patrick over Baker, who came across as too harsh.
This time around, Baker is trying to cultivate a gentler image. At the “Women for Charlie” event, that meant surrounding himself with women who asked mainly superficial questions.
There’s some charm in having his very poised 17-year-old daughter ask her dad how it felt to have a girl after two sons — but zero charm in having a friend from business school days ask what it meant that everyone used to go to Baker’s apartment for a “well-balanced meal.” By the way, it’s not because Baker knew his way around the kitchen; it’s because he lived with two “really, really good cooks” and was “really good about picking my roommates.”
The energetic Polito is an asset. She seems to understand not everyone in Massachusetts has the resources of the Baker and Polito families. But Baker treats Polito, a former state legislator, more as a prop than a political partner.
“This is probably the only political thing I’m going to be saying. Look who I chose as my running mate,” said Baker, high-fiving Polito, before asking her this probing question: “What’s it like to be a working mom with two kids?”
His wrap-up about the GOP ticket: “I get it. She gets it . . . She’s a mom, and I’m a dad. We get it.” What exactly do they “get”?
Asked afterwards, Baker said what he hears from women, “especially when I’m knocking on doors in cities,” is that they “want more choices and better choices with respect to schools. They worry about the economy and their ability to keep a job . . . They worry about having a safe and secure community.”
So, why not take questions about real issues like that, as he would in a room filled with several hundred men?
That’s what women want to hear — answers that show he is something more than a competent numbers cruncher.
Joan Vennochi can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.