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Democrats take new look at Massachusetts governor’s race after Baker steps aside

<i>Associated Press</i><br/>The race for Massachusetts governor became more appealing for commonwealth Democrats this week with popular Republican Gov. Charlie Baker's decision not to seek a third term.
Associated Press
The race for Massachusetts governor became more appealing for commonwealth Democrats this week with popular Republican Gov. Charlie Baker's decision not to seek a third term.

By Dan Merica, CNN

The race for Massachusetts governor became more appealing for commonwealth Democrats this week with popular Republican Gov. Charlie Baker‘s decision not to seek a third term.

The unexpected move set off a frenzied day for Democrats across Massachusetts, with much of the talk and speculation focused on state Attorney General Maura Healey and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. The prospect of both running sets up the possibility of a high-profile Democratic primary showdown in a deep blue state, but sources remain skeptical that two will end up running against each other.

Healey, who has served as attorney general since 2015, was thinking about running against Baker before Wednesday’s announcement, but a source familiar with the attorney general’s thought process said the governor’s decision “makes the path clearer.”

The source said Wednesday’s news led to the attorney general receiving “a huge amount” of “very supportive” calls about her possible run. “Certainly, she appreciated that,” the source concluded.

Healey would enter the contest with statewide name recognition and a substantial $3.3 million in the bank, making her a top contender.

Walsh is also considering a gubernatorial run now that Baker has declined to seek a third term, a source familiar with the considerations told CNN.

Walsh, who is currently in his first year as President Joe Biden’s labor secretary, previously served as mayor of Boston from 2014 to 2021. Like Healey, he would enter the race with both a sizable war chest — he has more than $5 million in his campaign account — and strong name recognition.

But the likelihood that Healey and Walsh would both choose to run is slim, a source close to both Democrats told CNN, with the most likely outcome being Healey makes her decision first and Walsh responds to what the attorney general decides to do.

“They will not run against each other,” the source said. “They have a real deal of respect for each other. … The secretary knows not to run against the attorney general because he is smart.”

Weighing on Walsh, the source said, was the labor secretary’s friendship with Biden and not wanting to sour that rapport by leaving his job to run a campaign less than a year after he took the helm at the Department of Labor.

Healey told Bloomberg on Wednesday she was not ready to make a gubernatorial announcement and would “save that for another day.” She added that she would make her decision “soon.”

Walsh told CNN on Friday that he hasn’t “really thought much about” the gubernatorial contest. When pressed on whether he would rule out a run, the labor secretary said he was focused on his current role, but did not say he would rule it out.

Baker told reporters on Wednesday that he let the labor secretary know about his announcement ahead of time.

“I did speak with Secretary Walsh and it was basically just a conversation to give him a heads up if he hadn’t heard about it,” he said, adding that there was “no comment or conversation” about Walsh running for governor.

Baker was seen as a political force in the state. While he narrowly won his first term in 2014 by around 2%, he skated to reelection in 2018 with 67% of the vote. Baker has long been considered one of the most popular governors in the country, making his decision not to seek a third term even more surprising because most political watchers in the state believed he was a shoe-in for a third term if he wanted it.

But as broadly popular as Baker was, the base of the Republican Party has hammered the governor for years for not being loyal enough to former President Donald Trump. Baker has not been shy about his opposition for the former President — he told reporters that he left his ballot blank in 2016 and 2020 and the governor became a chief critic of the way Trump handled the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump, who has used his post-presidential endorsements to rebuke those who opposed him in office, endorsed conservative Republican Geoff Diehl’s decision to challenge Baker in the Republican primary and even Jim Lyons, chair of the Massachusetts Republican Party, turned on the Republican governor.

“Our party remains committed to the America-First agenda advocated by President Donald J. Trump, and it’s clear to me that Charlie Baker was shaken by President Trump’s endorsement of another Republican candidate in Geoff Diehl,” Lyons said in a statement on Wednesday. Baker, asked about the statement, said he was not shaken by any Trump endorsement.

But a source familiar with Baker’s thinking said the governor was fed up with the opposition from his own party.

“He’s done,” said a source familiar with Baker’s plans. “When Massachusetts Republicans get a Democrat governor, they can thank their beloved Donald Trump.”

It is one area where some Republicans and Democrats agree.

Massachusetts Democratic Party Chair Gus Bickford cheered Baker’s decision on Wednesday, arguing that “the takeover of the MassGOP by the Donald Trump wing of the Republican Party is complete.”

And David Turner, spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association, said Thursday that “Massachusetts went from a race we were watching to one of the best pick-up opportunities in the country, and it was all because Donald Trump tanked Baker’s ability to win a GOP primary.”

“This has implications that go beyond the Bay State, since Trump’s revenge mission is cascading across the country,” Turner said. “Pass the popcorn.”

Healey and Walsh are not the only Democrats considering a bid, and multiple Democrats were already in the race before Baker bowed out.

Former state Sen. Ben Downing, Harvard professor Danielle Allen and state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz all declared gubernatorial bids before Baker’s decision.

Downing responded to Baker’s news by taking a subtle shot at those who may get in because of the hole his decision left.

“When I announced my candidacy in February of 2021, I did so not to run against Charlie Baker or any other candidate — but because I was tired of watching Beacon Hill refuse to act with urgency on the biggest challenges of our time,” Downing said in a statement.

“It’s a big day,” Allen tweeted in response to Baker’s news. “I started exploring this race last December & got in last June because I was sure status quo was not an option. Today Governor Baker and Lt. Gov Polito agreed. Status quo is not an option.”

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