By Colleen Quinn
State House News Service
---- — Republican candidate for governor Charlie Baker has a shot of capturing more moderate Democrats than he did in the 2010 race if he projects a more positive message, according to a prominent Merrimack Valley Democrat who is the type Baker hopes to attract.
Former state Sen. Steven Baddour, a Democrat from Methuen known for his moderate leanings, described Baker’s previous campaign as “very negative” but said there’s room for him to attract more voters with a positive message. A negative campaign doesn’t work, Baddour said.
“He’s got to change,” Baddour told the State House News Service yesterday. “It’s got to be a completely different race than he ran the last time in order to get those Democrats who sort of gave him a look, and then turned away, to give him a second look and say maybe give him a chance this time.”
Baddour said Baker was in a “much better position” in this race.
“It’s a different race altogether in terms of who’s running and I think he’s starting off on the positive and I think that makes a difference,” Baddour said at an event in Watertown.
“The last time was a very negative campaign. I don’t think that worked. It hasn’t worked in the past and I think, going forward, if he stays positive, hopefully from his perspective, he’ll try to attract more Democrats in order to get to that 50-plus-one,” he said.
Baddour said voters are prone to give candidates a second chance.
“People always give you the second bite of the apple. And I think Charlie’s going to get out there, but he has to give them a reason. If he doesn’t give them a reason to give him a second look, then no,” he said. “But if he comes out, he’s talking positive, he’s talking aspirationally; he’s talking about the future of Massachusetts, that’s a different story.”
In launching his campaign yesterday in a 90-second video announcement, Baker attempted to change his political image by painting himself as a positive candidate, asking voters to “aim high.” In 2010, he asked voters if they had “Had Enough?”
Baker also pledged “bipartisan leadership” as a Republican governor who needs to work with a Democratic-controlled Legislature.
Steering clear of attacks, Baker talked about growing the economy, helping small businesses and creating better schools and safer neighborhoods. He said he would work to make “Massachusetts prosperous with a quality of life second to none.”
Other Democrats said Baker, a former state budget chief and health care executive, will not be able to recast himself because there is no way for him to get away from his political past.
Repeating attacks launched during the 2010 campaign, Democratic Party Chairman John Walsh blamed Baker for the Big Dig financing plan, calling it “fiscal shell games” that Massachusetts residents are still paying for today.
Walsh told reporters yesterday it will be easy to get voters in 2014 to connect Baker with the 1990s Big Dig problems because it still affects their lives today. Repairs to decrepit bridges and crumbling roads were postponed because of the financing plan Baker authored when he was finance secretary under Gov. William Weld, Walsh said. During the 2010 campaign, Baker downplayed his role, describing himself as one of many voices in the process.
“This plan has had impacts on Massachusetts since the day Charlie Baker wrote it, and none of them are positive. And most of those impacts we’re still digging out from today,” Walsh said. “So I think the people who have hundreds of structurally deficit bridges, which we’re catching up on but we’re still not there, are curious why those bridges weren’t fixed back when they first needed to be fixed.”
When Republicans governors Weld and Paul Cellucci dealt with Big Dig cost overruns, they depended on Baker to come up with solutions, Walsh said.
“Their solution was to hide the costs, and to push those costs into the future, with what may have seemed like creative financing plans, but in fact they crippled our transportation infrastructure for decades, and we are still working out from underneath and we’re still paying the bill that Charlie Baker’s plan laid on top of the taxpayers. So I think it’s relevant.”
State Treasurer Steven Grossman, one of the five Democratic candidates for governor, said he expects Baker to echo themes from his previous campaign.
“We know what Charlie’s message will be, the same message that voters overwhelmingly rejected in 2010: government can never work for the middle class,” Grossman said in a statement. “I’m running on a proven record of progressive leadership that it can.”
Weld, who said Baker was the best candidate and a “born executive,” predicted his former secretary of administration and finance might have an easier time running in 2014 than he had running against then-Treasurer Tim Cahill and Gov. Deval Patrick in 2010.
“I don’t know that he has to do anything differently. I thought he was great the last time around. It was a three way race and maybe having it be a two-way race would be a good start,” Weld said. He said, “Certainly Gov. Patrick hit his stride during that campaign.”
Weld, who challenged Francis Bellotti for attorney general in 1978 and lost, before winning the governorship in 1990, said Baker might benefit from the experience of running for the seat before.
“The second time around sometimes is a little easier. First time I ran, I lost 80-20 to Frank Bellotti, and the next time out, I won,” Weld said.