Massachusetts likes to zig when the politics of the county at large tend to zag. We could see that play out in a real way in 2022 as progressive Democrats vie to recapture the governor's office that's been held by the moderate Republican Charlie Baker since 2015.
The nascent Democratic primary race for governor, at the moment consisting of three declared progressives, one looming bigfoot candidate in Attorney General Maura Healey and whatever mystery moderates decide to try their luck, could very well shape the state's politics firmly into the 2020s.
Progressives like Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz and Harvard professor Danielle Allen will try to replicate the kind of strength Bostonians like Michelle Wu and Lydia Edwards have shown at the city's polls. Former Pittsfield Sen. Ben Downing will take a different but no less progressive campaign path, focusing on environmentalists and support from voters outside of Rt. 495.
If her political hype is to be believed, Healey will attempt to do to the 2022 Democratic gubernatorial field what Sen. Elizabeth Warren did to the group of Senate hopefuls 10 years ago and force all her opponents out of the race before the September primary.
One of the biggest early questions for the 2022 race will be how Healey runs. Does she characterize herself as the trusted and responsible two-time "people's lawyer," or does she lean into identity politics and emphasize her position as the nation's first elected gay attorney general and quite possibly the first woman in line to be elected governor of Massachusetts?
Between Allen, Chang-Díaz, Downing, (probably) Healey and any other liberal or middle-of-the-road Democrat, the Democratic Party will have its pick of options. What the Democratic primary race likely won't be about is the current occupant of the corner office. Baker's decision to forgo a third term and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito's simultaneous retirement from politics means that Democrats' biggest targets and eight years of pent-up frustration over center-right governance will play less of a role.
During that Democratic primary, voters are likely to hear a lot of criticism of the Democrat-controlled Legislature, how the House and Senate can't seem to get along well enough to produce many meaningful laws and why veteran lawmakers like Chang-Díaz and Downing were or were not part of the problem. Those internal debates will be carried out while the two branches of the Legislature spar over mental and behavioral health care expansion, sports betting, support for community hospitals, wind energy and federal funding within the annual budget.
But what of the big red wave expected to crash into the 2022 midterms to show voters' dissatisfaction with President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats' anemic policy agenda? Conservative viewpoints are often out of fashion in Massachusetts, but unenrolled moderates still command the largest share of votes in the commonwealth. If a Republican gubernatorial nominee, even a Trump-centric figure like front-runner Geoff Diehl, rides the anti-Biden backlash well enough by focusing on education and economic issues, the GOP could stand a chance here in 2022.
All the while, voters will likely be bombarded with ads for at least two of the three ballot questions expected to be before voters in November. The big money clash will come between tech giants like Uber and organized labor over the fate of thousands of ride-hail drivers' and other gig economy workers' rights and benefits, as well as voters' patience for wading through deceptive campaign tactics. Expect less showiness from the campaign by liquor stores to stave off unlimited expansion of alcohol sales in retail stores by offering modest increases to the number of grocers, convenience and box stores allowed to peddle booze.