BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker, a two-term Republican who, at his peak, was one of the most popular governors in the country, will not seek a third term, throwing wide open the 2022 race for the state’s top political office after close to two years of managing through a global pandemic.
Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, who widely was considered to be the heir to the Baker political legacy, also has decided against a run for governor in 2022, dramatically reshaping the contest on the Republican side and, perhaps, clearing a path for Attorney General Maura Healey to enter the race on the Democratic side.
“After several months of discussion with our families, we have decided not to seek re-election in 2022. This was an extremely difficult decision for us. We love the work, and we especially respect and admire the people of this wonderful Commonwealth,” Baker and Polito said in a joint statement. “Serving as Governor and Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts has been the most challenging and fulfilling jobs we’ve ever had. We will forever be grateful to the people of this state for giving us this great honor.”
Baker began telling friends and allies of his decision over the past 24 hours, and informed his Cabinet during a meeting Wednesday morning. The governor and lieutenant governor, in their statement, cited the need to focus on building an economic recovery as Massachusetts emerges from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have a great deal of work to do to put the pandemic behind us, keep our kids in school, and keep our communities and economy moving forward,” the statement said. “That work cannot and should not be about politics and the next election. If we were to run, it would be a distraction that would potentially get in the way of many of the things we should be working on for everyone in Massachusetts. We want to focus on recovery, not on the grudge matches political campaigns can devolve into.”
A former Pittsfield state senator, Ben Downing, who is pursuing the Democratic nomination for governor, released a statement Wednesday in response to Baker’s announcement.
“When I announced my candidacy in February of 2021, I did so not to run against Charlie Baker or any other candidate — but because I was tired of watching Beacon Hill refuse to act with urgency on the biggest challenges of our time,” Downing stated. “Governor Baker’s decision to not run for re-election marks an opportunity to both upend the culture of complacency on Beacon Hill and elect leadership committed to delivering much-needed change to all 351 communities in Massachusetts.”
In the wake of Baker’s announcement, political insiders were discussing all kinds of possibilities for what the 2022 race could look like.
Republican Geoff Diehl, a former state lawmaker, has entered the race for his party’s nomination with the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, and three Democrats — Downing, Harvard University professor Danielle Allen and Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz — also are running.
Healey, the popular Democratic prosecutor, also is weighing a bid and could be more inclined to enter the fray with Baker out of the running. She previously has said she hoped to make a decision about her political future this fall, but she deflected questions Wednesday about her political future and, instead, thanked Baker for his service.
“He has been a valued partner to my office and to me. I have deep regard and respect for the way he has led, with a commitment to doing what is right on behalf of the people of the Commonwealth. I also appreciate that, in this time of divisiveness and challenge, he has always been willing to listen and make his own calls with a focus on respect and finding common ground,” Healey said.
In addition to the polarized political environment, Baker and Polito said the coronavirus pandemic helped them realize the importance of taking time for family and friends after the grind of eight years leading the state.
“Done right, these jobs require an extraordinary amount of time and attention, and we love doing them,” the two said. “But we both want to be there with Lauren and Steve and our children for the moments, big and small, that our families will experience going forward.”
Recent polling has suggested that Baker could fare well in hypothetical matchups against the Democrats running or thinking about running, but he also would face a potentially bruising Republican primary, as his relationship with the base of his party has frayed during the Trump era.
Baker did not support Trump during either of the former president’s runs for the White House, and Baker’s approval ratings are stronger among Democrats and independents than with voters in his own party.
Though it has been suggested in some political circles that Baker could run as an independent in 2022, the governor has brushed aside that notion, professing a belief in his brand of Republicanism molded under his political mentors — former Govs. Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci.
Baker would have been the first governor in recent memory to run for three terms. The previous governor to serve three four-year terms was Democrat Michael Dukakis, though his terms were nonconsecutive.