National Democrats Want Charlie

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By Matt Murphy


WASHINGTON —  Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican and sometime critic of President Donald Trump, may be seen by some Democratic governors as a potential ally in the political struggles with a GOP-controlled Congress and White House.

But that doesn’t mean he’ll be spared their arrows two years from now when he is expected to mount a re-election bid in a state that promises to be a prime target for Democrats looking to increase their ranks in state capitols.

“Let me give you a prediction: We’re going to do well,” Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy told the News Service at a meeting of the National Governors Association where only 16 governors have a “D” next to their name.

Malloy currently chairs the Democratic Governors Association, but next year he will hand the reins over to Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who has emerged on the national scene as a strong and vocal critic of Trump. Washington state led the effort to block the president’s immigration order in the federal courts.

Inslee said he has only met Baker once, but has been watching as the field of potential challengers takes shape on the other side of the country. Already former state budget chief and health care executive Jay Gonzalez has declared his candidacy, and at least three others — Newton Mayor Setti Warren, Cape Air CEO Dan Wolf, and environmentalist Bob Massie — are mulling runs.

Asked if Massachusetts would be a target for the Democratic Governors Associarion to pick up a seat in 2018, Inslee said, “Oh yes, you bet.”

The Democratic Governors Association spent more than $6.3 million in support of Democrat Martha Coakley’s losing campaign against Baker in 2014, but was outspent by the Republican Governors Association, which poured almost $10 million into Baker’s race.

Malloy said several potential Baker challengers have reached out to him and the Democratic Governors Association to discuss running in 2018, though he did not specify who and made clear that the governors group was unlikely to get involved until after a primary.

“We need a less Washington-centric party. We need to be talking about these races. We need to be highlighting what Democratic governors are getting done in state after state so that people know there’s a real option to perhaps the way they voted most recently,” said Malloy, who is struggling with his own low approval ratings in Connecticut, while Baker continues to be one of the most popular governors in the country.

Malloy pointed to the fact that some GOP governors will be term-limited out of office in 2018, while the election of Trump has galvanized Democrats as evidenced by the raucous crowds some Republican members of Congress have faced in their home districts over the past week at town hall meetings.

“That’s an enthusiasm we haven’t seen on the Democratic side in a very, very long time,” Malloy said.

The Connecticut governor may have a extra motivation to make Baker’s political life difficult as well.

First General Electric pulled up stakes and moved its headquarters out of Connecticut to Boston. Now Aetna, a Hartford-based health insurer, is reportedly in talks with the Baker administration about doing the same.

Malloy downplayed the rivalry between the states, but he did not hold back assessing the deal that helped lure General Electric to Boston – –a deal that Baker teamed up to complete with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, a Democrat.

“We work with Massachusetts. I’m a [Boston College] guy myself,” Malloy said, before pivoting back to GE.

He said, “There are more GE people working in Connecticut now than when I was sworn in to office. If Massachusetts is going to pay $160 million for every 200 jobs, your state’s going to go bankrupt very quickly.”

As part of the deal for GE to relocate its headquarters to Boston, Baker agreed to up to $120 million in local infrastructure improvements and the city offered $25 million in property tax breaks over the next 20 years. In return, GE is expected to bring 800 jobs to Boston.