The 2022 Massachusttets governors race could be a showdown between the state’s biggest Republican and Democratic heavy weights: Republican Governor Charlie Baker and Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey. But so far, neither has decided whether they are going to run.
A few well-placed Democrats say that Healey is taking discrete soundings, talking to longtime allies and a handful of stalwart contributors.
Whenever he’s asked, Baker grins and dances. His inner circle is even more mum than Healey’s. Either they won’t say — or don't know.
If Healey gets into the race, the presence of a big-name Democrat could prompt Baker to make his own decision about a third term. There’s no consensus among the political set as to what a Healey candidacy would mean to Baker. A tough fight against a popular Democrat could make a campaign slog less appealing to the soon-to-be 65-year-old Baker.
“He’s going to be facing a very formidable opponent. He has not done this before. The last time he faced a formidable opponent was Deval Patrick and he lost,” said Mara Dolan, co-founder of the Left of Center political action committee and a Democratic committeewoman, in reference to Baker’s failed 2010 attempt to oust his predecessor.
Republican consultant Rob Gray acknowledges that the landscape would change if Healey got into the race, but he doesn’t think it will factor into Baker’s decision on a third term.
“Healey getting in makes it a tougher race for Baker, but I don’t think it impacts whether he gets in the race or not. His numbers are just too good to worry about Maura Healey all that much,” Gray said.
If Baker declares before Healey, the attorney general will know whether she’d likely face the incumbent governor or his protégée Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. Likewise, an early decision by Healey could inform Baker of the likelihood of him or Polito remaining the state’s chief executive.
“If Charlie thinks there’s more to do, he’s going to run — period — whether Maura Healey is running or whether he thinks Karyn Poltio can win,” Gray said.
Baker, still very popular with independent voters and many Democrats, could see himself as the GOP’s only hope of keeping the governorship out of Democratic hands. MassINC Polling Group president Steve Koczela said that Baker’s popularity has remained fairly steady since he took office in 2015, staying in the 70% and 80% range apart from a dip into the high 60% range when the state’s COVID-19 vaccination operation first launch.
“Which are really good numbers, especially for a governor who’s now been in office for almost two full terms,” Koczela said.
“There’s been just issue after issue where people thought ‘this is going to be the thing that changes,’ that ‘this is going to be the factor and this is going to be the scandal. This is what’s finally going to change Baker's popularity,’” he added. “And over and over again, those forecasts have been proven wrong.”
Before either Baker or Polito make it to the Nov. 8, 2022, general election, they will have to wrestle their party’s nomination from conservative former state Rep. Geoff Diehl, who has maintained popularity on the right after losing to Sen. Elizabeth Warren in 2018. Diehl won the Republican primary for U.S. Senate that year against the moderate businessman John Kingston by nearly 33 percentage points, proving that the GOP in Massachusetts has a strong appetite for a more populist Republican candidate.
“Baker would dispatch Diehl pretty handedly in a primary, I expect, and it being a primary for governor would drive primary turnout up somewhat,” which would also include more independent voters favorable to Baker, Gray said.
If Healey declares her candidacy for governor, it could spell the end for the three Democrats already in the field for governor: former state Senator Ben Downing, Harvard professor Danielle Allen and Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz. All three current candidates are campaigning this summer without the support of many key Democratic donors and activists who are waiting for Healey to make up her mind.
“We have a history in Massachusetts of candidates, really strong candidates, coming in. And once that happens, other folks make pragmatic decisions,” Dolan said.
Dolan likened Healey’s potential impact on the Democratic field to the 2012 U.S. Senate when Elizabeth Warren's entrance led to all of her opponents either dropping out of or being eliminated from the race well before primary election day.
Downing’s campaign maintains that the former Berkshire County senator and clean tech executive can build a coalition of Democratic voters from underutilized communities and constituencies to rival any other Democrat.
“We are laser-focused on long-term, relational organizing in places that too many campaigns treat as an afterthought, as well as building up our grassroots fundraising program to power a campaign we can be proud of,” Downing deputy campaign manager Christina Gregg wrote to GBH News.
A spokesman for Allen told GBH News that Healey’s entrance into the race would not affect Allen’s campaign.
Chang-Díaz’s campaign spokesman replied to GBH News’ inquiry about Healey’s potential candidacy simply by stating that the Boston senator “is running on her strong record of challenging the status quo on Beacon Hill and winning systemic change for working families.”
One of Healey’s strongest areas of support is the LGBTQ community, where Massachusetts’ first and only openly gay state-wide elected official is celebrated.
“Maura Healey has strong, very strong support in the LGBTQ+ community, partly for demographic reasons and partly because they admire her advocacy, her intelligence and her commitment to policies for equality,” said political consultant and co-chair of the state’s Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus Arline Isaacson. But Isaacson said LGBTQ+ support, and crucial early donations, could go to other candidates the longer Healey stays undeclared.
“It’ll be interesting to see whose support goes where. Some people will be divided in our community,” Isaacson said.