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How Massachusetts' Republican Governor Has Remained So Resilient In A Blue State

Nov 2, 2018
Originally published on November 3, 2018 9:39 am
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Massachusetts is one of the most Democratic states in the country, a state where President Trump is pretty unpopular. But polls show that Massachusetts voters really like their Republican governor, Charlie Baker, who's running for re-election. NPR's Asma Khalid reports.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Charlie Baker is not the kind of Republican we usually see on the national stage.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHARLIE BAKER: Success is measured by what we accomplish together.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Governor Charlie Baker's bipartisan leadership...

STEVE KOCZELA: He doesn't really talk a whole lot about being a Republican. He talks a lot about being bipartisan.

KHALID: That's Steve Koczela, a pollster in Massachusetts.

KOCZELA: The thing that really sticks out about his poll numbers is how broad his support is. Oftentimes his support numbers have actually even been higher among Democrats than among Republicans.

KHALID: Democrats like Dan Rivera, the mayor of Lawrence, a city where three quarters of the population is Latino.

DAN RIVERA: Investment in education under Charlie Baker has gone up. And we have more local aid and more education aid than we've had. And he's been able to do that without raising taxes.

KHALID: A couple of years ago, the region was hit with over a hundred inches of snow, and Rivera says he was impressed with how Baker handled the blizzards. He still disagrees with the governor on things like expanding charter schools and taxes, but he likes him in part because, he says, government is working. Baker has a 61 percent approval rating among registered Democrats. After Baker was first elected, he met with Stephanie Pollack, and she was well-known as this transportation guru working in academia.

STEPHANIE POLLACK: I thought to myself, as a lifelong progressive Democrat, OK, he's not going to hire me, but it's a great opportunity to tell him what I think he should do on transportation issues.

KHALID: The governor did hire Pollack as his transportation secretary. She says they've found common ground on the need to improve the subway.

POLLACK: What his philosophy is - is we owe it to taxpayers to run in government well. And isn't that a core progressive belief?

KHALID: This focus on managing government well means that even supporters sometimes struggle to point to specific achievements, and that opens Baker up to critics.

JOHN WALSH: Literally the most conservative Republicans in Massachusetts and I agree about Charlie Baker. We're not voting for him because he stands for nothing.

KHALID: John Walsh is the former chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party. He says even though Baker signed a law this year mandating a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave, these were already widely popular ideas in the state.

WALSH: He values his high poll numbers more than progress on any issue on any side of the issue spectrum.

KHALID: In this deep blue state, Baker has been a critic of President Trump but in a consistent and detailed way. Will Keyser was an aide to the late Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy. He's now a senior adviser on Baker's re-election campaign.

WILL KEYSER: Trump in an odd way has created, yes, its challenges but it's also created its contrast. People are seeing how they'd like it to be done versus how they'd like it not to be done.

KHALID: Keyser, who has never worked for a Republican before, says Baker is a fiscal conservative. He's supporting the GOP challenger against Senator Elizabeth Warren. But Keyser says being a Republican governor is fundamentally different than being a Republican member of Congress.

KEYSER: When you're the governor, you're a caucus of one, and you get to be your own person. And voters get that distinction.

KHALID: And Baker benefits from that distinction. All of the recent polls have him ahead of his Democratic opponent by about 40 points. Asma Khalid, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.