I know, sounds crazy, right? This is a state that was called for President Barack Obama one second after polls closed in the West last year and that was the only state to vote for George McGovern in 1972.
But, like most incumbent governors, the economic downturn has taken a toll on first term Gov. Deval PatrickDeval PatrickMassachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker won't seek reelection Deval Patrick launches initiative to spur grassroots organizing growth OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Supreme Court sides with oil companies in Baltimore case| White House environmental justice advisers express opposition to nuclear, carbon capture projects | Biden administration to develop performance standards for federal buildings MORE's (D) approval ratings and the Republican Governors Association sees an opportunity in the Bay State, which until Patrick's election, had a Republican Governor for 16 years.
"Massachusetts is definitely on our radar screen," Mike Schrimpf, a spokesman for the RGA, told the Briefing Room. "Republicans have a history of getting Republicans elected in Massachusetts."
And on top of that, Bay State Republicans' dream candidate, Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare CEO Charlie Baker, told the Boston Herald this week that he is considering running (see the DraftCharlie twitter feed here, and website here). When I first started covering Massachusetts politics, the first question I would ask anybody was, "Is there a Republican that can win statewide in Massachusetts?" Nine times out of 10, the answer was a quick "Charlie Baker."
Baker, who worked in former GOP Govs. Paul Cellucci and William Weld's administrations, has several things going for him. 1. As a CEO, he has money and that would be critical to his campaign. Mitt Romney spent more than $6 million to win the governorship in 2002 and fundraising for Republicans in Massachusetts is, well, paltry to put it lightly. 2. Also from his job, he is an expert on healthcare, a top issue in the Bay State. Remember Massachusetts was the first state to implement a universal healthcare policy and it is still feeling its way through the transition. 3. The Massachusetts GOP, while it doesn't have much in terms of organization, has a history of rallying around political outsiders who pledge to hold the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature accountable. 4. Baker is seen as moderate and has worked with Patrick on more than one issue. And 5. Baker is, well, as the Boston Herald put it, "charming."
Even Democrats recognize that Baker poses the biggest threat of any Republican. Steve Grossman, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and a Democratic strategist in Boston, said that while he still believes Patrick will win re-election, Baker is the Republicans' best shot.
"My belief is the governor Patrick will be re-elected in 2010," he told the Briefing Room. "But the Republicans are desperate to show a pulse in Massachusetts these days, and Charlie Baker is who they look to give them that kind of Pulse...I think Charlie has, over the years, amassed an impressive record public service. He's their most attractive candidate and their best fundraiser."
But, as Grossman cautioned, let's not get carried away. The Republican Party in Massachusetts is decimated. In last year's election, its caucus in the 160-member state House of Representatives shrank from 19 members to 16 members. In the 40-member state Senate there are just five Republicans. Democrats also have an advantage in voter registration over Republicans, though most voters in Massachusetts are unenrolled.
Patrick is still held in high esteem among many activist Democrats in the state and, as Grossman noted, voters may be wary of changing leadership in the midst of a crisis, especially of Patrick's efforts to correct the Bay State's many fiscal and economic problems are well-received.
In any event, Republicans see an opportunity to take back the governor's office in 2010.
(Click here to see Baker last week on WBZ-TV with Massachusetts political analyst Jon Keller last Sunday.)