The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican Trump critic, will not seek reelection

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R).
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R). (Elise Amendola/AP)

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker will not seek reelection to a third term, he announced on Wednesday, a move that will bring an end to his tenure as the moderate Republican leader of a heavily Democratic state.

Baker, 65, was one of his party’s most public critics of President Donald Trump. He has served two terms as governor and remains popular with voters, according to opinion polls, although his approval ratings have fallen since last year. Baker won a second term in 2018 with 66 percent of the vote.

Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito (R) jointly announced their decision not to run. They said in a note to supporters Wednesday that several factors drove the choice, including a desire to spend more time with their families and to keep the focus on recovering from the pandemic, rather than the “grudge matches political campaigns can devolve into.” The next governor will take over in January 2023.

 As a Republican centrist in a deep-blue state, Baker was an anomaly in today’s harshly partisan landscape. He is also part of a long tradition in Massachusetts, where voters have repeatedly looked past party membership to elect as governors Republicans who combine social liberalism and fiscal conservatism.

Baker’s political balancing act became more difficult during the Trump administration. He condemned Trump’s “bitterness, combativeness and self-interest” in response to the protests after the police killing of George Floyd. Baker also called on Trump to “step down” immediately after the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.

Political strategists said that Baker had remained the favorite to win reelection but that the road ahead promised to be contentious. Geoff Diehl, a conservative Republican embraced by Trump, had already announced his intention to challenge Baker in the GOP primary. Trump has attacked Baker as a “RINO,” a “Republican in name only.”

Trump delivered a parting shot Wednesday, saying in a statement that Baker had decided not to run for reelection “because I didn’t endorse him.” Baker “shouldn’t even be considered a Republican,” Trump said.

Speaking to reporters earlier Wednesday, Baker said Trump’s decision to endorse Diehl did not leave him shaken and did not factor in his decision.

“Not at all,” he said. Baker said that he had decided to devote his remaining time in office to helping the state navigate the pandemic instead of beginning a fresh campaign.

“We believe the pandemic means we really ought to just focus on the work and get it done,” Baker said.

On the Democratic side, the state’s attorney general, Maura Healey, is widely expected to join the gubernatorial fray and would be an opponent with statewide support and organizational heft.

A wild card in the race is Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, a former mayor of Boston. Walsh has told people close to him that he would like to return to Massachusetts and is mulling a run for governor, according to Mary Anne Marsh, a Democratic consultant in Boston.

Three Democratic candidates have announced their plans to run for governor: Sonia Chang-Diaz, a state senator from Boston; Danielle Allen, a professor of politics at Harvard University; and Ben Downing, a former state senator.

Baker faced “a painful primary . . . and then a potentially competitive general election,” Marsh said. He would have prevailed, she said, but “it was going to be time-consuming and tough.”

Baker, a Massachusetts native and Harvard graduate who served in senior government roles under previous Republican governors, earned a reputation as a skilled manager known for “doing less talking and more working to solve problems,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center.

Baker’s approval ratings soared during the pandemic. He earned strong support — particularly from Democratic voters — for the way he tackled the spread of infections in the state.