Blame it on President Trump.
It’s only 2017 and Massachusetts Democrats are all fired up about the 2018 governor’s race.
Last week, Jay Gonzalez, who oversaw the state’s operating budget during the Patrick administration, became the first person to challenge Governor Charlie Baker. Other challengers are expected to emerge.
With a 59 percent favorability rating, Baker is popular with Massachusetts voters. But Trump gives Democrats an early line of attack against the Republican governor and his reluctance, so far, to speak out passionately against the Trump agenda.
Gonzalez, for example, is calling Baker “a status quo, wait-and-see-governor” and argues, “Now more than ever, we need a governor who is going to stand up for our values and fight to move us forward.” Meanwhile, Attorney General Maura Healey is running what some might consider a shadow campaign for governor, as she takes part in anti-Trump rallies and marches and launches litigation against Trump’s controversial executive order on immigration. Newton Mayor Setti Warren is also said to be interested in the race.
Baker is still balancing the duties of government with the anger and activism stirred up by Trump. At the same time, Democratic activists have yet to scope out the best way to harness all that anti-Trump energy. Are they going to expend it against each other, during a long, drawn-out primary? Or will they coalesce around one strong candidate who can take the fight directly to Baker?
Under current state law, the gubernatorial primary is scheduled to take place in fall of 2018. The seemingly endless primary season is a longstanding problem in this state, since candidates of the same party generally use that time to bicker with each other over small differences that matter to their base but not to the general electorate. The loser dies from a thousand cuts, while the bloodied winner moves on to the general election. It would make more sense to hold a primary in May or early June. Then the nominee could have until November to make a case to the public. The schedule is unlikely to change, however, since incumbents prefer the existing system.
If no Republican challenges Baker, while multiple Democrats seek their party’s nomination, Baker could sit back while Democrats fight each other. However, Gus Bickford, the newly elected chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, said he’s not worried about that. He predicts consensus among battling Democrats to make sure their main message is: “Where’s Charlie? Why hasn’t he stood up for Massachusetts?”
But what, exactly, does it mean to stand up for Massachusetts? Many argue that Baker is doing that now by sticking to business. Two weeks into the Trump administration, it’s clear that Massachusetts Democrats have a different view: It means marching and rallying against Trump policies and personnel picks. So far, Baker is banking on his management credentials, promise to hold the line on taxes, and ability to negotiate a middle ground on policy with state lawmakers. As the pressure gets more intense to deliver on education, transit, and other public services, the debate will come down to money and whether Massachusetts taxpayers are willing to pitch in more of it. That doesn’t change, with or without Trump in the White House.
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