The state so many Americans equate with mainstream liberalism – “Tax Massachusetts” was the GOP’s old mocking nickname – has a habit of electing Republicans to its highest office, even though it sends out prominent progressive leaders. in Washington.
“There is a real lag,” Democratic state senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, who entered the race in June, told CNN. “People perceive Massachusetts as some kind of democratic and progressive bastion. That it is the land of milk and honey of progressive policies and results.”
The reality, she said, is much different – arguing that years of Republican leadership have been “a detriment to so many fundamental systems that people rely on in our Commonwealth. Schools, public safety, environment, traffic, transportation , economic development These systems were left behind and / or were not put in place in the right way in the first place. ”
As summer draws to a close, there are three main Democratic candidates for the primaries: Chang-Díaz, already the first Latina elected to the state Senate (and daughter of the country’s first Latino astronaut), would be the first governor. State Latina; Harvard professor Danielle Allen, an accomplished political theorist who never ran for office, would be the first black woman to lead the Commonwealth; and Ben Downing, a native of Pittsfield who served five terms in the State Senate. A high-profile fourth potential candidate, two-term Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey – the country’s first gay state attorney general – said she was weighing an offer, but warned in July that a decision could not to be taken until fall.
When asked to measure the impact of Healey’s deliberations on the race, Downing was blunt.
“It absolutely has an impact on the campaign, on fundraising and on people who are willing to get involved one way or the other. And I think it keeps candidates from starting to build momentum.” , did he declare. “This is one of the many variables in a really crazy time to run for office.”
Downing, Chang-Díaz and Allen have all insisted that, despite Healey’s long shadow, they are focused on building the coalitions they deem necessary to defeat Baker – or, in the event that he doesn’t come back. , Republican Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito or former State Representative Geoff Diehl, a pro-Trump GOP lead candidate.
“There is a lot of work to be done to change the public understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the Baker-Polito administration,” Allen said. “And that means it takes a lot of time and some grassroots movement. So the timeline required to beat Baker-Polito is… it’s already there. Those of us who are working on it, we’re on the timeline that’s it. necessary.”
In search of a new coalition
Since former Governor Michael Dukakis, the party’s presidential candidate in 1988, stepped down in 1991, after his second consecutive term and his third overall, only one Democrat – former Governor Deval Patrick – has (twice ) defeated the candidate for governor of the GOP. Former state attorney general Martha Coakley narrowly lost to Baker in 2014.
During his nearly eight years in office, Baker racked up some of the highest approval ratings among governors in the country. At a time when heads of state have acquired higher and higher profile – first as Democratic leaders tried to build a bulwark against former President Donald Trump, and now as Republicans challenge President Joe Biden – Baker won a second title of sorts: one of the most popular governors in the country.
“The interesting dynamic is that its popularity is often higher among Democrats than among Republicans,” MassINC polling group chairman Steve Koczela said. “It was consistent for some time that his favors were higher among Democrats and Trump’s were higher among Republicans than Baker’s, even though Baker was hugely popular overall.”
This reversal of the typical partisan divide has led Democratic candidates to seek broader coalitions by attracting new voters.
“I learned a lot of lessons from watching Stacey Abrams,” Allen told CNN. “And one of the things she’s always said is that she goes out there to connect with every community in the state.”
Chang-Díaz, the sole official in the Democratic race at the moment, has had the most publicized success so far in garnering support from progressives in the movement – including some of the same young political activists who have helped Key Massachusetts Senator Ed. Markey’s loss to former Rep. Joe Kennedy III in a primary last year.
When asked why she saw a winner in Chang-Díaz, whose promise to unite and invigorate a progressive, multigenerational coalition has – in other countryside, in other states and congressional towns and districts – met with mixed results, Jagadeesh offered a sharp answer Cas.
“What is different is that (Chang-Díaz) is not a backbench MP, she is not a granola hippie who has just appeared on the political scene,” Jagadeesh said. “She did this job, she made these relationships, she fought.”
But can they beat Charlie Baker?
Mara Dolan, a member of the Democratic State Committee and co-founder of Left of Center, a female-led super PAC, praised the “exceptional” field of Democratic primary candidates, but said Healey, despite being for now on the sidelines, would have a head start if she goes for it, having already been elected twice statewide.
She also argued that Baker’s well-documented popularity with Democrats was not as transferable, at least not under current political conditions, to the voting booth as some believe – and that he is not to the polling booth. shelter from the nationalization of national and local politics, especially GOP leaders in places like Texas are stepping up efforts to undermine suffrage laws and effectively ban abortion.
“Democrats will vote for the Democratic candidate, Republicans will vote for the (Republican) candidate. In Massachusetts, however, it is truer that what is most important are the unregistered voters, these are the voters centrists – they’re the swingers, ”Dolan said.“ These voters are looking for someone who will lead these very important national issues. And that’s something that’s good for Maura Healey, because she’s been doing it from the start. “
Baker could also face new pressure to tack to the right, or risk an uncomfortably tight primary race, if Diehl’s campaign gains momentum and forces him to stick or stick. to the Republican red meat causes of the Trump era.
“Whether it’s issues or just talks about Trump or voter fraud, the things Geoff Diehl will say are the things Republican primary voters might want to hear,” said Koczela, the Massachusetts pollster. “And the things Charlie Baker will say are probably not those things. So that creates a very interesting contrast, given that this is the competition he has to face first to reach the overall.”
Baker, who has yet to make his intentions known, is avoiding campaign gossip.
“For now, Governor Baker remains focused on leading the Commonwealth through the pandemic – not electoral politics,” a senior adviser to the governor told CNN.
Yet progressives in the race are currently questioning the extent to which Baker’s common-party affiliation with Trump will put him at a disadvantage in a general election, if he runs for a third term and gets a new appointment. In many ways, Massachusetts Democrats say, the GOP’s dominant Trumpist faction has been a boon to the moderate, technocratically-minded Republican – and the eventual Democratic nominee will need to do more to connect with voters in gateway cities across the country. ‘State and among those across the state who are increasingly focusing on transit problems and incessant traffic.
“Democrats tried to connect Charlie Baker to National Republicans (in 2018) and say, ‘He’s one of them. You don’t like them. Vote for us. “Well, Charlie Baker is not one of them,” said Downing, who is embarking on an ambitious climate agenda. “I have strong disagreements with Charlie Baker on politics, but he doesn’t is not a national republican. And the second we Massachusetts Democrats try to turn it into this, voters are ignoring everything that comes out of our mouths. “
The challenge of defeating Baker, or any other Republican candidate, Chang-Díaz said, had in some ways been made simpler by the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, which – like across the country – has amplified inequalities and frustrations , especially among the working class and young voters, which had been covered up for generations.
“If you’re a relatively affluent Massachusetts resident, you live in the right zip codes, you have access to various forms of power, it’s really easy to want to believe it (things are better than they are)” , she said. . “And to convince you that everything is fine. But this last year of the pandemic and the beginnings of racial calculus has really exposed people to the depths of the problems that we have allowed simmering for so long.”
Allen echoed this point, describing a “split screen economy” which he felt was blending into a singular and more disturbing picture as the pandemic makes it harder to ignore government failings.
“We all got used to settling down,” Allen said. “We’ve gotten used to settling for less than we should be looking for.”