It was an anti-climax that still packed a dramatic punch: Attorney General Maura Healey Thursday declared that she would seek the Democratic nomination for governor this year. Healey instantly became the Democratic front runner and the favorite among political insiders to become the next governor of the commonwealth.
Healey's proven statewide political appeal and fundraising prowess give her a decided advantage over rivals on the Democratic and Republican sides of the race heading into the 2022 election.
Healey has a record of winning statewide, beating established candidate Warren Tolman in the 2014 Democratic primary for AG by nearly 25 percentage points to become the state’s first openly gay attorney general. She cruised to reelection in 2018 with 70% of the vote. Her fundraising outstrips anyone else in the race, with over $3.6 million dollars in the bank.
"With Maura Healey's arrival in the governor's race, she becomes the front runner and most likely the next governor of Massachusetts," Democratic political consultant Mary Anne Marsh told GBH News.
Healey said in a campaign video released Thursday morning she's running to bring communities together and to "build an economy in which everyone can thrive."
"I've stood with you as the people's lawyer, and now I'm running to be your governor to bring us together and come back stronger than ever," Healey says in the video.
The video features a voiceover by Healey explaining the economic themes of her campaign alongside footage of the Attorney General visiting restaurants, schools and other public places during the pandemic. Biographical portions of the video explain her background and feature shots of her career as a basketball player and contemporary footage of her on the court.
The ad highlights the cost of housing, childcare and education for Massachusetts residents as among Healey's top issues. Scenes from everyday life during the pandemic serve as a background for her message of rebuilding after the COVID-19 emergency has ended.
Political strategists suggested at the end of last year that Healey's advantages meant she was in no real rush to declare her candidacy.
Elected in 2014 as a first-time candidate, Healey quickly became a leader among Democrats after former Gov. Deval Patrick, former AG Martha Coakley and former Treasurer Steve Grossman all receded from the political scene. Healey was an outspoken critic of former President Donald Trump, often bringing lawsuits on behalf of the commonwealth to oppose Trump's policies. An easy reelection helped bulk up Healey's campaign chest and her stature as one of the only Massachusetts Democrats who could challenge Gov. Charlie Baker for governor in 2022.
But even before Healey entered the race, the 2022 gubernatorial election was shaped by Baker's decision to retire after his second term and by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito's simultaneous announcement that she would not seek to replace Baker.
With the incumbent Republican out of the race and the state GOP ensnared in internal squabbles under leadership dedicated to Trump, the chances that a Democrat will succeed Baker have never been higher.
Geoff Diehl, a conservative former state representative from Whitman, has so far run a Republican primary campaign for governor based around resistance to mask and vaccination mandates and fully in line with the positions of the former president.
"If Geoff Diehl wins the [Republican] primary, which he could, he's a Donald Trump supporter. And Massachusetts isn't going to vote for someone for anything — let alone governor — if you support Donald Trump," Marsh said.
Diehl has seen success in Republican primaries and as the leader of a ballot campaign against increased gas taxes, but his record in general elections is the inverse of Healey's: his only statewide contest against U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren resulted in a 60% to 36% landslide for the liberal incumbent.
Before competing in the general election, Healey will have to win the Democratic nomination. Sonia Chang-Díaz, a progressive woman of color and veteran Boston state enator, has built a following on the left focused on climate change, education affordability, housing and increased government spending. Harvard political philosopher Danielle Allen has entered the campaign with — for a political neophyte — strong fundraising numbers. Allen has positioned herself as an outsider dedicated to reform.
“[Healey announcing] turns the race completely upside down and makes it all but impossible for either of the two candidates remaining in this race to win the nomination,” Marsh said.
To continue to the September primary, each candidate will need to attract support from 15% of delegates at the Democratic state convention in Worcester. Another candidate, former Berkshire Sen. Ben Downing, dropped out of the race this month because of lackluster fundraising.