July 9, 2009

IT'S ON:

GOP’s Baker leaps into race against Patrick: Healthcare executive’s entry alters 2010 dynamic (Andrea Estes and Matt Viser, July 9, 2009, Boston Globe)

Charles D. Baker Jr. announced yesterday that he will resign as chief executive of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care to seek the Republican nomination for governor, a move that infused more drama into an already chaotic political week and paved the way for a potentially momentous 2010 campaign.

Baker, who has been seen by many of the party faithful as the leading Republican challenger, is planning to run a campaign that leverages his strong background in state government and his firsthand knowledge of the state’s healthcare system. He intends to challenge Governor Deval Patrick’s approach to the fiscal crisis and his collaboration with the Legislature to raise the sales tax. [...]

Though largely unknown to the general public, and without a compelling story like Mitt Romney’s performance running the Salt Lake City Olympics, Baker has an almost cultlike following among Massachusetts political insiders and the business elite. He is often cited for his low-key but firm approach to problems and a legendary grasp of complicated issues. Baker served as a senior aide to two Republican governors, Weld and Paul Cellucci, before taking the helm of Harvard Pilgrim, which he helped navigate from the brink of insolvency earlier this decade and put on solid financial footing.

“I consider myself a Baker Republican,’’ Weld said yesterday from New York, where he is in a private law practice. “When I was in office, I would turn to him in private after virtually every meeting and say, ‘What do you think we should do?’ I don’t recall he and I ever disagreeing. He knows more about government than I do or ever did.’’

Weld added: “I think I’m not taking anything away from any other candidate . . . but I think Charlie Baker is different. People with that much ability and that much devotion and that much sand and gravel don’t come along all that often.’’

Whether admiration among the powerful elite is enough to propel Baker into office is not clear. While his announcement injected new life into the dwindling ranks of a state GOP hoping to recapture the governor’s office, Baker faces significant hurdles. Among them: building a campaign fund large enough to overcome his low name recognition and persuading voters to elect someone to the highest office in Massachusetts whose sole electoral experience is as a one-term Swampscott selectman. In that last regard, there is precedent: Patrick had never held elective office, and neither had Weld.

Baker is far more likely to run on his experience with healthcare and his ability to run a major organization than anything else. He will also point to his time as state secretary of administration and finance under Cellucci and Weld, and as state secretary of health and human services under Weld, to highlight his ability to understand the workings of state government and the budgets that fund them.

Baker’s announcement was but one major event in another frantic day in Massachusetts politics. Earlier, state Treasurer Timothy Cahill stopped by Quincy City Hall to change his party affiliation from Democrat to unenrolled, a first step toward his own gubernatorial campaign.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 9, 2009 6:15 AM
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