Charles in charge?

Republican Charlie Baker has been ready to be governor for years. But was he ready to be a candidate?
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  October 7, 2010

HI, I’M CHARLIE BAKER: Before his campaign, Baker never had to work hard to be liked. Now, he says that mastering the political art of “working the room” has taken some “at-bats.”

TRANSCRIPT: The Phoenix interviews Charlie Baker.
There is one more televised debate left in the race for Massachusetts governor. That's one final chance left to connect with voters, to get them to like the candidate. Aside from that, there is time for a few more television ads, and some media appearances, but we're coming down now — with less than four weeks to go — to final arguments and then mobilizing toward getting the vote out.

Voters should already have a good idea what they think about the candidates — which is why an increasing number of observers, across the political spectrum, are expressing surprise at how few Bay Staters like Charlie Baker. After some 16 months on the trail, millions of dollars in advertising, and a constant presence in debates and media appearances, the man hailed as the perfect, flawless candidate, running in the perfect opportunity, has yet to get more than a third of the electorate to hold a favorable opinion of him.

Nothing has gone right. Instead of leading the unpopular incumbent, Deval Patrick, Baker is trailing. Instead of driving independent Tim Cahill out of the race, Baker has only created a more determined foe. Instead of solidifying his base, Baker still has a large chunk of supporters, according to polls, saying they may yet change their minds.

Some political insiders are pointing fingers at the consultants behind the campaign, making the same mistakes they made with Kerry Healey four years ago. Others blame Cahill for stepping on Baker's message, and forcing Republicans to spend time and resources against him. And others, including some on Baker's campaign team, seem to blame the voters themselves for not paying enough attention.

But the real problem, as far as I have been able to discern, lies with Baker himself — a man who seems to have been so certain, for so long, that he should be governor, that he is oblivious to the need to convince other people.

Baker is only half joking when he says that he and his wife Lauren have been talking about him running for governor almost as long as they've been married. Those conversations probably started a few years later, around 1994, when then-governor William Weld promoted the 38 year old to secretary of administration and finance, the powerful cabinet position responsible for the state budget.

The notion that he should be governor was not just hubris; Republicans in the state have been looking at him as their great hope for just as long. Baker was the biggest star among the young, highly educated go-getters in Weld's administration who were going to be the next Republican Party leaders in the commonwealth.

Baker didn't run in 1998, because the GOP mantle was firmly in the hands of Paul Cellucci, acting governor after Weld left mid-term. Cellucci likewise handed the office off to Jane Swift — who got pushed aside by Mitt Romney, with his millions and his calculated seizure of the state party infrastructure.

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Related: Elephant in the Room, Romney rides again, The Third Annual Phoenix Memorial Day look at the laughable state of Massachusetts politics, More more >
  Topics: Talking Politics , Deval Patrick, Massachusetts, Mitt Romney,  More more >
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