Charlie Baker has been saying it throughout his run for governor: His goal is to win 100 percent of the vote. If that attitude is unrealistic — it’s also helped Baker make inroads in one particular constituency that Republicans have tended to write off.
At weekly newspaper The Bay State Banner, senior editor Yawu Miller has been watching white politicians woo African-American voters for years. The last time Charlie Baker ran for governor, Miller says, his efforts were underwhelming. But this year, it’s different.
"What he’s done is, he’s showed up," Miller said. "And that’s big, in that I don’t think we’ve seen this much attention from a statewide Republican candidate ever in Massachusetts history, in the black community."
You saw Baker’s determination to court black voters on primary night, when he was joined on stage by Robert Lewis Jr., a well-known Boston activist who runs an urban baseball program called The Base. And you can see it in a recent Baker ad titled “Think” — the last ten seconds of which feature four adorable African-American kids.
"Only Charlie Baker will bring a bipartisan approach to Beacon Hill," the ad says. "Think about a better future for you and your family. Charlie Baker for governor."
Last month, Miller snapped a photo that captured Baker’s evolution for posterity. In the picture, Baker is at a cookout in Roxbury and he’s dancing with abandon — knees bent, head thrown back, and eyes closed as he seems to hits a high note.
"So Baker was at an Urban League cookout behind their office in Dudley Square," Miller said. "There was a DJ, and they started playing 'My Girl.' And Baker was into it. It was a photogenic moment. Something you probably wouldn't see, expect from the attorney general."
Darnell Williams, the president and CEO of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, was in that photo. He says black voters are noticing Baker’s newfound eagerness — and that they approve.
From the folks I’ve talked to from across the commonwealth, people were saying that he’s coming across as genuine. They’re seeing a side of him they haven’t seen before, and it seems to be appreciated and welcomed.
And Williams adds, Baker is pitching policies that resonate with African-Americans, too — like lifting the cap on charter schools and helping minority businesses land public contracts.
Across the state in communities of color, he’s learned from 2010. He’s listening to them and he’s taking that, converting what he’s heard, and putting it into policy and platform issues.
But Miller says other Baker ideas may leave black voters cold — especially his focus on welfare fraud. Here’s part of an ad from the pro-Baker super PAC Commonwealth Future.
"Coakley still has no plan to fix welfare," the ad says. "Baker has a plan to crack down on welfare fraud."
As Miller sees it, that’s an issue with clear racial overtones. When he’s wooing black voters, Miller says, Baker tends to downplay the topic.
"He’s not really talking about that when he comes in the black community, unless he’s prompted — unless people say, 'What’s the deal with that stuff?'" Miller said. "I mean, it’s dog whistle politics."
Suspicion like that is one reason that African Americans have steered clear of the GOP for years. It’ll be tough for Charlie Baker to change that next Tuesday. But he just might convince some black voters to think twice.