By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
---- — BOSTON — Republican Charlie Baker, a former state budget chief and health care executive, officially jumped into the wide-open 2014 governor’s race yesterday with a more upbeat campaign theme than 2010 when he ran and lost to incumbent Gov. Deval Patrick.
Baker yesterday morning posted a 90-second announcement video on his new campaign website — charliebaker2014.com — asking voters to “aim high” and showcasing a more positive campaign theme than his 2010 “Had Enough?” slogan as he tries to recast himself to voters who rejected his candidacy four years ago. He also pledged “bipartisan leadership,” a necessary quality for a Republican governor working with a Democrat-controlled Legislature but also a promise that raises questions about whether he’d pull Democrats into his administration.
Dressed in jeans and a blue-collared shirt in a backyard setting, Baker talked about non-controversial aspirations like growing the economy, helping small businesses and creating better schools and safer neighborhoods.
“We’re all concerned about our future and I’m determined to do what I can to make Massachusetts prosperous with a quality of life second to none,” Baker said. Baker was not expected to be available for questions until today.
The 56-year-old Swampscott Republican is the first to enter the 2014 gubernatorial contest on the GOP side. While there’s time for other candidates to get in, he could have a clear path to the nomination after former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown announced last month he would not run for governor. Baker also avoided a primary during the last cycle when Christy Mihos was denied access to the ballot at the state Republican Convention in 2010.
Having held top Cabinet positions in the Weld and Cellucci administrations before going on to become the CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Baker touted both his public and private sector experience, claiming he helped turn a $1 billion state deficit into a surplus while creating more than 250,000 jobs in Massachusetts, and taking Harvard Pilgrim from the brink of bankruptcy to the nation’s highest ranked health insurer.
“Let’s aim high. Let’s be great, Massachusetts,” Baker said.
After losing to Patrick in 2010, when the governor hammered Baker for his role in financing the Big Dig and with escalating health care costs, Baker joined the Cambridge venture capital firm General Catalyst Partners and he’s for the most part been out of the public spotlight since his last campaign.
Baker served as health and human services secretary under former Republican Gov. William Weld and secretary of administration and finance under both Weld and the late Gov. Paul Cellucci. Yet despite being a fiscal conservative and social moderate in the mold of his former boss Weld, Baker’s campaign failed to generate the crossover appeal in 2010 with conservative Democrats and independents that he ultimately would have needed to defeat Patrick.
“I think he’s the most able person I’ve ever met in public life,” Weld told reporters after testifying at a Gaming Commission hearing in Boston. “I think he’s got tremendous empathy for how people actually live and a tremendous understanding of policy. I can’t think of a better person to be governor of any state. He’s also a born executive.”
Returning to its 2010 playbook, the Massachusetts Democratic Party on Tuesday night didn’t wait for Baker to formally announce his campaign when it released a video revisiting old clips and storylines from the last campaign saddling the Republican with the financial turmoil of the Big Dig. Baker was finance secretary under Weld when the Big Dig financing plan was crafted, but Baker in 2010 downplayed his influence by describing himself as one of many voices in the process.
Richard Tisei, a former state senator and Baker’s running-mate in 2010, said yesterday on Boston Herald internet radio that Baker may have received poor advice from consultants in 2010.
“His personality didn’t really come through. What he’s all about didn’t really come through,” Tisei said, calling Baker a “great family man” and the “very best hope for the future of the Commonwealth.”
Tisei also defended Baker against the renewed attacks around the Big Dig financing scheme that left the state with massive debt, calling it “old news” and a “losing message” for Democrats.
“Charlie wasn’t the governor at that point. He was working for the governor,” Tisei said.
Though Tisei said another Baker-Tisei ticket is not likely on the offing next year as he considers a second run for Congress in the 6th Congressional district, the former Beacon Hill lawmaker suggested Taunton Rep. Shaunna O’Connell, 2010 GOP candidate for auditor Mary Connaughton or Gabriel Gomez, who ran and lost the recent U.S. Senate race to Ed Markey, as potential lieutenant governor candidates.
O’Connell told the News Service in August she would “most certainly” be on the ballot for re-election and was not considering other positions during the upcoming election cycle.
In a statement emailed by her legislative aide yesterday, O’Connell said, “I’m thrilled that Charlie is running for Governor. We need someone who can manage this state, stop the fraud and abuse of our tax dollars, and help create a more small business friendly environment to grow jobs. With Charlie as our Governor, Massachusetts residents will have more money in their wallets, better job opportunities and a brighter future.”
Early last month, as he was still considering his political future, Baker suggested that in a second campaign he may let voters peer deeper into his private life. The Republican said he tried hard in 2010 to keep his private life out of the campaign, but realizes now that voters like to get to know the candidate beyond their policy positions, suggesting a more prominent role in a 2014 campaign for his wife Lauren, with whom he has three children.
He also said he didn’t do a good enough job painting a picture for voters about what life in Massachusetts would be like under a Baker administration. “I think it’s really important to be able to project a vision for what you think the future should be all about ... We didn’t do it well enough,” Baker said last month during a Herald radio interview.
Both those learned lessons seemed to be addressed in his introductory video as he talked about family, being a “good husband” and a “loving and responsible” father and offering an aspirational vision for Massachusetts rather than trying to harness any frustration in the electorate with the current state of government.
“I care about our community where we’ve raised our family, and being a good son and brother. And, as corny as that may sound, that’s exactly why I want to be your governor,” Baker said in the video.
Born in Needham, Baker graduated from with an English degree from Harvard University and an MBA from Northwestern University.
“Charlie Baker’s plan to create jobs, deliver a great education to every child and promote stronger and safer communities sets him apart as the one candidate investing in the families of Massachusetts. The 2014 election presents the opportunity to change the culture of corruption and abuse in state government and restore balance on Beacon Hill,” MassGOP chairwoman Kirsten Hughes said in a statement, without specifying any plan details.
Rob Eno, a conservative Republican blogger, said he was “beyond excited” to work to elect Baker, and said he hoped the candidate understood the importance of building the minority GOP ranks of the Legislature in 2014.
One of the first additions to Baker’s campaign team is MassGOP spokesman Tim Buckley. Communications consultant Will Keyser, who previously served as communications director to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy and chief of staff for former Democratic Congressman Martin Meehan, will also be an advisor to the campaign, according to a Baker campaign source. Will Ritter, a veteran of the Mitt Romney, Brown and Gomez campaigns, will work as media advisor to the party in Buckley’s absence.
On the Democratic side, Treasurer Steve Grossman, former Obama Medicare chief Donald Berwick, biotech executive Joe Avellone, and former Patrick and Obama homeland security advisor Juliette Kayyem have all announced campaigns for governor, while Sen. Daniel Wolf’s campaign has been suspended pending the outcome of a dispute with the state Ethics Commission.
Patrick wished Baker well, but would not say whether Baker could win over the current field of Democrats.
“Good for him. What can I say. I wish him well. Not too well, but well,” Patrick said after an event in Watertown. “I’m going to support the Democratic nominee because so far what I have seen out of the other party is a return to the past rather than a look to the future and I think all of the candidates, prospective candidates on the Democratic side, have been talking about and focused on how we move from where we are to even better times and I’ve been proud of what we’ve been able to do in the last six-and-a-half years and will do over the remaining year and half and I want to see a lot of that continue.”
Independent Evan Falchuk is also a candidate for governor.
Attorney General Martha Coakley, U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano and Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone are also weighing possible runs.