MAGov ’14: Does no for Brown mean yes for Baker?

Few remember Charlie Baker’s name or “personality”, though he could benefit from different issues landscape in 2014. 

The news last night that former Senator Scott Brown will not run for governor in 2014 has cleared the way for Charlie Baker to make another run at the state’s highest office. Baker, Secretary of Administration and Finance under Governor Weld and a health care executive, is once again the presumptive nominee, as he was prior to Brown’s brief consideration of running himself.

If he does run, he will need to overcome a rather precipitous drop in name recognition since 2010. If he can, he may benefit from a different issue environment in 2014 compared to 2010.

Charlie who?

Voters were quick to forget Baker after his run in 2010; his name recognition dropped sharply after the 2010 elections. (Although, to be fair, other candidates are suffering from a same lack of recognition, as Brent Benson observed today.)

This lack of voter awareness may not a bad thing, given the challenges Baker had with female voters – a key swing group over the last several statewide elections. According to our 2010 post-election poll, Baker lost women by 24 points – worse than Brown’s 18-point gender gap against now-Senator Elizabeth Warren in 2012. Nearly four years out of the spotlight may afford Baker an opportunity to reintroduce himself to voters without the baggage he accumulated during his last campaign.

 “Mr. Personality” on the issues

In announcing his decision not to run, Brown took a swipe at Baker on one of his perceived vulnerabilities. “Is he Mr. Personality? No,’’ Brown said to radio host Dan Rea. But personality isn’t everything, as Brown’s own electoral performance shows. In 2012, Brown lost to Warren despite having higher favorability (60 fav/38  unfav) than Warren (56 fav/43 unfav) on Election Day, according to exit polls. In 2012, voters were looking for someone who would stand up for them on their own specific issues rather than simply a likeable character.

What may matter more is which the issues are in play in the 2014 race. As you can see in the chart below, Baker bested Governor Deval Patrick among voters who ascribed high levels of importance to taxes, corruption and state budget shortfalls, but lost among voters who focused on health care and education. The difference was that more voters considered the Governor’s winning issues important than Baker’s issues, and on the Governor’s issues, he ran up a bigger margin than Baker did on his.

// The taxman cometh

If he runs, Baker’s fate may be determined more by which issues voters care about than their appraisal of his personality. And coming off a legislative session where lawmakers raised taxes by $500 million, Baker could benefit from any resulting wave of anti-tax sentiment. Already, initial steps have been taken to place three separate tax rollback measures on the ballot in 2014: one to roll the sales tax back to 5 percent, one to repeal the automatic indexing of the gas tax, and one to repeal the new sales taxes on software services. Republican lawmakers staged a press conference on the gas tax repeal, and even if Democratic leaders in the legislature are successful in their efforts to alter or replace the software tax, the memory of it could color the 2014 campaign.

If some or all of these measures make it to the ballot and benefit from a well-funded and coordinated campaign, the combination could elevate taxes as an issue in the race and open the door for Baker to take advantage of a more favorable political landscape.