How Mass. Republican Charlie Baker is Winning with Independent Voters

When it comes to politics, 2014 may be remembered as the year of the improbable. In Kansas, a GOP stronghold, both the Republican governor and a very conservative senator are fighting for their political lives against a moderate Democrat and an independent, respectively.

Meanwhile, in New Mexico, a state President Obama won by more than 10 percentage points just two years ago, the incumbent Republican governor, Susana Martinez, is poised to handily defeat her Democratic opponent. As surprising as these races are, however, they may not compare to what is going on in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts is a state that has voted for the Democratic candidate in the last 7 presidential elections and does not have a single Republican in Congress. Democratic voter registration far outnumbers Republican registration in the state.

However, in what may better be described as a near-impossibility, Republican Charlie Baker is running a competitive campaign in the state’s gubernatorial race.

According to a recent Boston Globe poll, Baker leads his Democratic opponent, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, by 9 percentage points. Among independent voters, Baker’s lead is even stronger. Thirty-nine percent of independents surveyed said they would “definitely” be voting for Charlie Baker, while only 10 percent said the same for Coakley.

What is the cause of this widespread support for the Republican gubernatorial candidate in a deep-blue state like Massachusetts?

The communications director for the Baker campaign, Tim Buckley, explained this phenomenon in the following statement to IVN:

“Charlie’s positive vision for Massachusetts that focuses on job creation, reforming state government, and better schools is picking up momentum as huge numbers of independents and even Democratic officials across the aisle support [him].” – Tim Buckley, communications director for Charlie Baker’s campaign

This image of bipartisan and independent support for Charlie Baker is demonstrated in the Boston Globe’s endorsement of Baker on Sunday night. Just 4 years ago, the Globe endorsed Baker’s opponent, Martha Coakley, in her campaign for U.S. Senate.

Coakley is struggling to generate enthusiasm even among her fellow Democrats. In the previously mentioned Globe poll, only 53 percent of Democrats surveyed said they would “definitely” vote for Coakley, while 84 percent of Republicans said they would “definitely” be voting for Baker.

Writing in the spring issue of Commonwealth Magazine, Paul McMorrow stated that “Baker is running a campaign that’s heavy on crossover issues that don’t have a Republican or Democratic solution. He’s trying to win independents and Democrats to his cause by floating above his party.”

Later, McMurrow argued that Baker, who is both pro-choice and in favor of same-sex marriage, is “shrinking the field of play, taking divisive issues from gay rights and abortion to guns and the environment off the table. He plans to take the fight to his opponents on a few issues: education, the economy, and leadership.”

Charlie's message of balance in this state has been a winning argument with independent voters.
Kirsten Hughes, Massachusetts Republican Party
Massachusetts Republicans have centered their case for Baker around the issues of competent management and bipartisan cooperation. Massachusetts Republican Party Chairwoman Kirsten Hughes, in a phone interview for IVN, said that Baker “is a true manager.”

She also stated that “Charlie’s message of balance in this state has been a winning argument with independent voters,” because independents “see the value of balance.” Baker, she argues, is “a great, uniquely-qualified candidate for governor.”

Hughes attributed much of the Baker campaign’s success in resonating with independent voters to the more extensive outreach efforts being made by the state Republican Party, whether through phone calls or door-knocking or the use of electronic data to target specific voters.

Meanwhile, the Coakley campaign has struggled to gain traction among independent voters in Massachusetts. Last week, David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post wrote that Martha Coakley “has been held back by a subdued campaign persona and a thin political agenda. And again by a perception that her party takes this state — and this seat — for granted.”

Hughes agreed with that statement, adding that “there’s a sense of entitlement on the part of Martha Coakley and the Democrats.”

In its endorsement of Charlie Baker, the Boston Globe editorial board made arguments that would appeal to independent voters. One of them was that “to provide consistently good results, especially for the state’s most vulnerable and troubled residents, agencies need to focus on outcomes, learn from their errors, and preserve and replicate approaches that succeed. Baker, a former health care executive, has made a career of doing just that.”

Besides the issue of competency, the Globe endorsement mentioned the benefits of having a Republican governor and a Democratic Legislature in Massachusetts:

“One needn’t agree with every last one of Baker’s views to conclude that, at this time, the Republican nominee would provide the best counterpoint to the instincts of an overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature. His candidacy opens up the possibility of creative tension.” – Boston Globe Editorial Board

Hughes agreed with this argument, and stated what perhaps best summarizes both the message of the Baker campaign and the reason for its success among independents in a heavily-Democratic state even as Election Day is less than one week away: “With a Republican in the corner office, there is a healthy exchange of ideas.”

Editor’s note: The Coakley campaign and the Massachusetts Democratic Party declined requests for comment.

Photo Source: AP