BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito will run for re-election in 2018, according to a senior political advisor, marking an expected, but significant turning point as Baker’s political team begins to take steps to build the campaign apparatus that will be necessary to win another four years in office.
The formal announcement may not come as a surprise, but it does signify a milestone in the 2018 election cycle and officially makes the popular Republican and his lieutenant governor the first GOP ticket to seek a second term since Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci in 1994.
“The governor and lieutenant governor intend to seek re-election and will begin to build a campaign organization over the coming months. With the election still a year away, their focus remains on the bipartisan work they were elected to do,” advisor Jim Conroy told State House News Service.
Polito, a Holy Name graduate, is a lifelong Shrewsbury resident, where she began her political career on the Board of Selectmen. She was a state representative for the area for 10 years.
The campaign will ultimately focus, according to Conroy, on the governor’s “bipartisan achievements,” high levels of employment, investments in education, holding the line on taxes and tackling systemic and persistent problems like the management and performance of the MBTA and the opioid crisis.
Baker has been saying for months that he would make a final decision on re-election in the fall, even as he and his campaign team have been aggressively fundraising for the future, amassing a war chest of more than $6.9 million midway through November.
And yet despite his enduring high approval ratings and the early struggles of Democrats vying to challenge him for the office, Baker may face strong anti-Republican headwinds next year.
Polling has shown a strong majority of voters in Massachusetts firmly opposed to President Donald Trump and the Republican agenda in Congress, and the governor will be sharing the top of the ballot with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who is also seeking a second term.
The Baker-Polito re-election campaign plans to open a new headquarters in Allston in early December, and Brian Wynne, the executive director of the MassGOP, will transition from the party to become the governor’s campaign manager. It’s unclear who will take over day-to-day operations of the MassGOP.
Conroy, who ran Baker’s 2014 campaign, and political strategist Will Keyser will stay involved in the re-election effort, and additional staff will be added over the coming months. A formal campaign kickoff event is not expected until sometime next year.
Baker was not made available for an interview, but he was expected in Worcester Tuesday morning to tour Table Talk Pies’ new processing facility in the South Worcester Industrial Park.
The governor’s team is feeling no sense of urgency to transition the governor to full campaign schedule, and Conroy said the re-election effort will build slowly as Baker continues to focus on his work at the State House, including the second year of the two-year legislative session that begins in January.
The governor has carefully crafted a persona over the past three years as a nose-to-the grindstone manager focused on making government more efficient and someone who prefers to embrace Democrats and stay above the political fray. His Democratic opponents have countered that his style shows he lacks vision for the state, but his relationship with Beacon Hill’s elected Democrats, who seldom have a bad word to say about the governor, has remained solid.
While perceived as strengths by the administration, the T and the governor’s handling of the opioid crisis have also provided fodder for his opponents.
The public transit agency, despite an overhaul of its management structure, continues to be plagued by overcrowding and inconsistent service for riders who rely on the trains, trolleys and subways to get to work and move around greater Boston.
The opioid crisis also continues to claim more than five lives every day across the state, and Newton Mayor Setti Warren, who is running as a Democrat for governor, has been particularly critical of Baker for not pouring more financial resources into the fight.
Warren is one of three Democrats campaigning for the party’s nomination along with former state finance secretary and health insurance executive Jay Gonzalez and environmental activist and entrepreneur Robert Massie.
Though still early in the process, none of the three Democrats so far have been able to distinguish themselves or galvanize Democratic support in a way that might suggest they could mount a serious challenge to Baker.
Early polling shows all three significantly trailing Baker, and combined the three men had just over $83,000 in campaign funds on hand, according to the most recent filing in November, as the holiday season and the time for annual fundraisers swings into full gear.
Democrats may have one thing working to their advantage – President Donald Trump.
The president remains deeply unpopular among Democrats who may be motivated to vote not just for Sen. Warren, who is considered a possible 2020 presidential contender, but also for a handful of progressive ballot initiatives that could drive turnout and hurt Baker.
Baker has kept the White House and Congressional Republicans at arms length since Trump’s surprising victory last November when the governor left his ballot blank rather than voting for Trump or Hillary Clinton.
The governor has been critical of Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare and has sounded the alarm about more recent tax reform proposals that he says will hurt middle-income Bay State residents.
The strategy has worked as he has continued to receive high grades from Massachusetts voters despite the state Democratic Party’s attempts to lash him to his national party’s leaders.