Updated at 5:20 p.m. Dec. 1
Neither Gov. Charlie Baker nor his Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, both moderates, will run for the state's top job in 2022, opening up next year's gubernatorial race for conservatives and progressives who want to see the state go in a different direction.
"We believe the pandemic means we really ought to just focus on the work and get it done," Baker, alongside Polito, told reporters at the State House Wednedsay afternoon after announcing his intention to retire from public office next year.
Baker was candid that he plans to dedicate the remainder of his second term to the pandemic recovery and not to a campaign trail that could cause him headaches in the primary and general election.
"We believe it's most important that we spend the next year focusing on that and not focusing on, let's call it, the discourse — that's probably an insult to the word discourse — that comes with political campaigning," Baker said.
In a letter to supporters published earlier Wednesday, Baker and Polito wrote that after several months of discussion with their families, they decided not to seek re-election in 2022 and Polito declined to run for the top job herself.
"This was an extremely difficult decision for us," they wrote. "We love the work, and we especially respect and admire the people of this wonderful Commonwealth. Serving as Governor and Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts has been the most challenging and fulfilling jobs we’ve ever had. We will forever be grateful to the people of this state for giving us this great honor."
The governor's withdrawal comes after a poll suggested that Baker, still immensely popular with most voters, would have an uphill battle in the Republican primary against more socially conservative GOP candidate former Whitman Rep. Geoff Diehl. Another poll suggested Baker's popularity with unenrolled voters would give him a leg up over Diehl and any Democrats already in the race if he ran without the backing of the GOP.
In a statement issued Wednesday, Diehl thanked Baker and Polito for their service.
"While I have often differed on policy with this administration, I have always liked Charlie Baker and Karyn Polito personally and I wish them the best in their future endeavors," Diehl wrote. The Whitman Republican then mentioned how his candidacy has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump.
Before Baker's Wednesday morning announcement, many speculated that Baker would consider a run as an independent candidate instead of as a Republican in order to avoid a primary clash with Diehl and the Trump-centric portion of the Massachusetts GOP.
MassGOP chairman Jim Lyons didn't mince words when asserting the party's dedication to Trump.
"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 wrote.
Asked whether he was "shaken" by Trump's support for Diehl, Baker assured the press the party's internal politics played no role in his decision.
"No, not shaken. No, not at all," Baker said.
"I have never entered a political race with the fundamental question being about whether I could win or I could lose. Every race I've ever entered, I entered because I believed I would be the best person to do the job and had the best plan on how to get it done,' Baker said.
With Baker stepping down, the chance for Democrats to retake the corner office greatly improved.
State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, perhaps the most progressive Democrat already in the race, said Baker's decision not to seek a third term means the state will be looking for new leadership and systemic change.
"The people of Massachusetts are ready for a new chapter with new leadership. For far too long, people in power have asked working families to wait for change — despite a growing affordable housing crisis, inaccessible and expensive child and health care, the existential threat of climate change, and long-standing racial injustice," Chang-Diaz wrote in a statement.
Another Democrat already in the race, former Sen. Ben Downing, said he never intended his race to focus on Baker or any other candidate.
“Governor Baker’s decision to not run for re-election marks an opportunity to both upend the culture of complacency on Beacon Hill and elect leadership committed to delivering much-needed change to all 351 communities in Massachusetts," Downing wrote.
Harvard Professor Danielle Allen is also running in the Democratic primary.
There is strong speculation that Attorney General Maura Healey could throw her hat into the ring, perhaps as early as next week.
Gina Christo, senior strategist on the Downing campaign, suggested that Baker vacating the seat is an "incredible opportunity to ignite an electorate" that hasn't engaged with state politics since Gov. Deval Patrick was reelected in 2010.
"What that means is, it's not just progressives, but it's the knitting together of progressives, moderates and people of color across the state, really leaning in heavily on gateway cities. There's this set of unenrolled voters who were Baker people who sit out the primary and vote in the general, and now those folks are up for grabs," Christo said.
State Democratic Party Chairman Gus Bickford saw Baker's departure as a sign that Baker and the Donald Trump-oriented GOP can no longer coexist.
"Charlie Baker was pushed out of office by his own Party which has completely adopted the tactics and policies of Donald Trump," Bickford wrote.
If Diehl is successful in capturing the GOP nomination, Bickford said voters will side with Democrats.
"Geoff Diehl and the Massachusetts Republican Party are offering chaos, division and policies that will drag our state back in time. We believe voters will choose progress in 2022," Bickford wrote.
This story was updated to include additional details and comments.