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JOAN VENNOCHI

Seth Moulton is the rare Democrat to tweak Charlie Baker

US Representative Seth Moulton disagrees with the refugee statements of Governor Baker.John Tlumacki/Globe staff/file 2014

Governor Charlie Baker just encountered a rare native species: a Massachusetts Democrat eager to stand up to him — or at least tweet at him.

When the Republican governor said he was reluctant to take in Syrian refugees until he learned more about the vetting process, US Representative Seth Moulton tartly tweeted: “It’s a shame that Governor Baker doesn’t know the difference between refugees and those from whom they need refuge.”

The next day, after Baker poked Moulton for going “straight to the partisan talking points,” Moulton poked right back: “My American values and Marine Corps experience are not ‘partisan talking points.’ @MassGovernor should know better.”

Over at CommonWealth magazine, Moulton’s Twittersphere engagement was swiftly cast as a portent of a showdown between heavyweights in 2018. The freshman congressman is ambitious, for sure. Given his resume, anything’s possible. He served four tours in Iraq, earned a dual master’s degree in business and public administration from Harvard, and beat an incumbent congressman who, although weakened by family scandal, had the full backing of the state’s Democratic establishment.

Still, I’d argue the attention Moulton received says much more about Baker’s hold over a crop of timid Democrats. If anyone speaks up, even in 140 characters or less, it’s news.

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Mesmerized by the governor’s poll numbers, the opposition party is generally happy to keep him happy, whether his agenda is reforming the T or voicing a cautious note about refugees so he can sound something like a Republican to his national counterparts.

For now, Massachusetts Democrats are simply trying to draft onto Baker’s popularity, which follows him everywhere. The governor recently got a standing ovation at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute, where he led a discussion around his signature issue — the state’s opioid addiction crisis — on a panel that included US Senator Ed Markey in a back-up role.

There has been some shadowboxing between Baker and Attorney General Maura Healey, a rising Democratic star. But with Baker’s help, Steve Wynn’s casino project in Everett is going forward despite Healey’s objections. And she’s stuck with the un-fun task of regulating Draft-
Kings, a Boston-based fantasy sports game with powerful backers and loyal fans, while Baker blithely declares it’s not gambling.

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With the Wynn project, Baker is also thwarting Mayor Marty Walsh, who is waging a legal battle aimed at scuttling the casino. Baker already undermined Walsh’s dream to bring a summer Olympics to Boston by ordering up a damning cost analysis.

Yet they are still bros. As Boston magazine noted, Walsh agreed with Baker on the Syrian refugee issue — before he disagreed. When pressed on whether he supported “a ban” on welcoming Syrians as refugees, Baker said, “I would certainly say no until I know a lot more than I know now.” Asked where he stood on it, Walsh, replied, “I stand with the governor as well on this.” Later in the day, the mayor’s office issued a statement saying it “is not our custom to turn our backs on people who are in need and who are innocent.”

Other Democrats initially gave Baker just enough cover so that he quoted them to defend his own position. As Maurice Cunningham pointed out in his MassPoliticsProfs blog, Markey said that while America cannot close “our hearts or our doors” to the refugees, he said he, too, wanted more information about vetting. So did US Representative Jim McGovern. After Baker was criticized for his position, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said he supported the governor’s approach and blamed the media for emphasizing the wrong part of his comments. “I think that the governor’s principal message was actually not about whether we should hit pause or not. I think his principal message was ‘we need to make sure that we’re doing everything here in Massachusetts to make sure that our people feel safe and that we’re doing everything to keep them safe,’” Rosenberg said on Boston Herald radio.

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It took Senator Elizabeth Warren to define the refugee question as a stark moral choice “to lead the world by example or to turn our backs to the threats and the suffering around us.”

But as befits the queen of the nation’s progressive left, Warren didn’t bother with hometown politics. She went straight to the Senate floor.

That left it to Moulton to make waves simply by tweaking the Republican governor of an allegedly blue state with a few tweets.

Perhaps Massachusetts Democrats saved their passion for the House measure calling for more scrutiny of Syrian refugees. Only two members of the delegation, US Representatives William Keating and Stephen Lynch, voted in favor of it.


Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.