The Most Popular Politician in America

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, can lay claim to the title, with sky-high approval ratings despite running a Democratic stronghold of a state.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker speaks at the Dedication Ceremony for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate on March 30 in Boston.
National Journal
Karyn Bruggeman
Add to Briefcase
Karyn Bruggeman
May 1, 2015, 1:38 a.m.

In an era defined by un­re­lent­ing par­tis­an con­flict, ex­ceed­ingly pop­u­lar politi­cians are not only the ex­cep­tion to the rule but seem to be hov­er­ing on the verge of ex­tinc­tion.

And then there’s Mas­sachu­setts Gov. Charlie Baker. After four months in of­fice, the Re­pub­lic­an gov­ernor of this deeply Demo­crat­ic-lean­ing state is cruis­ing at high alti­tude, en­joy­ing sky-high ap­prov­al rat­ings. And Baker’s top ad­visers and out­side ob­serv­ers say the reas­ons for his pop­ular­ity are re­l­at­ively simple: He’s just keep­ing his head down and run­ning the state.

A Suf­folk Uni­versity poll in mid-April showed that 70 per­cent of Mas­sachu­setts voters ap­proved of Baker. Those fig­ures, the envy of vir­tu­ally any pub­lic of­fi­cial, wer­en’t an an­om­aly, as oth­er sur­veys have also shown the gov­ernor fly­ing high. What’s more, Baker’s high per­son­al rat­ings (74 per­cent of Suf­folk re­spond­ents said they viewed him fa­vor­ably) made him more pop­u­lar than the state’s highest-pro­file Demo­crat, pro­gress­ive star Eliza­beth War­ren.

Vir­tu­ally the only oth­er gov­ernors to notch rat­ings this high in re­cent years have been Demo­crats in deep-blue states or Re­pub­lic­ans in deep-red states. Re­cent polling in con­ser­vat­ive Utah and Mis­sis­sippi, for ex­ample, show those gov­ernors to be roughly as pop­u­lar as Baker. But giv­en that Demo­crats out­num­ber Re­pub­lic­ans around 3-to-1 in Mas­sachu­setts, the com­par­is­on hardly seems val­id.

Ob­serv­ers of all stripes point to the same few things ex­plain­ing Baker’s early suc­cess. Baker has demon­strated the ma­na­geri­al skills he prom­ised in his 2014 cam­paign, is build­ing good work­ing re­la­tion­ships with Demo­crats, and is ad­eptly tack­ling mundane but thorny is­sues that oth­er gov­ernors may not have had the pa­tience for.

The main ex­ample: Baker’s early in­terest in tak­ing on long-fes­ter­ing and ex­pens­ive prob­lems with Bo­ston’s crum­bling sub­way and com­muter rail sys­tem, an is­sue that be­came es­pe­cially press­ing un­der the weight of un­pre­ced­en­ted snow­fall last winter—the type of nat­ur­al event that of­ten can tor­pedo a politi­cian, not boost one.

“I think people view Charlie Baker as the kind of guy who wants to handle something like that. He wants to sur­round him­self with the data. He wants to be able to find the path for­ward,” said Peter Uber­tac­cio, a polit­ic­al sci­ence pro­fess­or at Stone­hill Col­lege.

Baker once was a mem­ber of then-Gov. Bill Weld’s Cab­in­et. Uber­tac­cio said Weld “has ad­mit­ted that when situ­ations like this reared their head dur­ing his ad­min­is­tra­tion he would kind of raise his hands in ex­as­per­a­tion and turn to someone like Charlie Baker to handle it.”

Baker seni­or ad­viser Jim Con­roy be­lieves the gov­ernor’s bi­par­tis­an, hands-on ap­proach and gen­er­al af­fabil­ity are what’s driv­ing his pop­ular­ity. “It’s the con­stant back-and-forth and neg­at­iv­ity and the gotcha that isn’t hap­pen­ing here that makes him sort of unique,” Con­roy said.

“And then, you know, he’s twelve feet tall and just buzzed his head for can­cer re­search,” Con­roy said. “And he’s a crazy Drop­kick Murphys fan and clas­sic rock trivia buff. There’s just a lot of things about him that are dif­fer­ent and sep­ar­ate him from the politi­cians and polit­ics as usu­al that really turn people off.”

Baker has made a point of in­clud­ing Demo­crats in his ad­min­is­tra­tion and work­ing with Demo­crat­ic lead­ers in the le­gis­lature. The Re­pub­lic­an’s chief of staff is a Demo­crat, as are roughly half of his cab­in­et ap­pointees.

Baker has won praise from some loc­al Demo­crats for his hand­ling of the snow. Un­like some oth­er state budgets, the rol­lout of Baker’s budget plan in­cluded cuts to health care and job train­ing pro­grams but still man­aged to avoid sig­ni­fic­ant con­tro­versy.

Tim­ing also is work­ing in Baker’s fa­vor. Were this year’s re­cord snow­fall to have happened a year or two from now, voters would be likely to lay prob­lems with Bo­ston’s sub­way sys­tem at Baker’s feet in­stead of those who came be­fore him.

Baker already is reap­ing polit­ic­al re­wards from his early pop­ular­ity. Maura Healey, the state’s Demo­crat­ic at­tor­ney gen­er­al, de­clared last week (a day after the Suf­folk poll came out) that she has no in­terest in run­ning for gov­ernor in 2018.

Pri­or to that an­nounce­ment, Healey was con­sidered by some pun­dits to be Baker’s likely chal­lenger-in-wait­ing. But not only has a Mas­sachu­setts gov­ernor not lost a reelec­tion bid since 1982, Baker has built up an un­usu­al level of strength on the job.

What We're Following See More »
Trump Hosting $100,000/Couple Fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago
43 minutes ago

Even while Congress works to avoid a government shutdown at 5 p.m. today, "President Donald Trump will mark the first anniversary of his inauguration on Saturday with a celebration at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, with tickets starting at $100,000 a pair. That amount, according to the invitation, will pay for dinner and a photograph with the president. For $250,000, a couple can also take part in a roundtable." The event will boost the Trump presidential campaign and the RNC.

House Passes Spending Bill, but Senate May Balk
1 hours ago

"The House approved a stopgap spending bill on Thursday night to keep the government open past Friday, but Senate Democrats — angered by President Trump’s vulgar aspersions and a lack of progress on a broader budget and immigration deal — appeared ready to block the measure. The House approved the measure 230 to 197, despite conflicting signals by President Trump sent throughout the day and a threatened rebellion from conservatives that ended up fizzling. But the bill, which would keep the government open through Feb. 16, provided only a faint glimmer of hope that a crisis could be averted before funding expires at midnight on Friday. In the Senate, at least about a dozen Democratic votes would be needed to approve the measure, and there was little chance that those would materialize."

Senate Dems Say They Can Block Spending Measure
19 hours ago

House Speaker Paul Ryan says he has the votes to pass a short-term spending bill tonight, but "Senate Democrats said they're confident they have the votes to block the stop-gap spending bill that the House is taking up, according to two Democratic senators and a senior party aide. And top Senate Republicans are openly worried about the situation as they struggle to keep their own members in the fold."

Mueller’s Team Scrutinizing Russian Embassy Transactions
21 hours ago
FBI Investigating Potential Russian Donations to NRA
21 hours ago

"The FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency." Investigators have focused on Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank "who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA." The solicitation or use of foreign funds is illegal in U.S. elections under the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) by either lobbying groups or political campaigns. The NRA reported spending a record $55 million on the 2016 elections.


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.