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
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 »
Kelly Craft Nominated for UN Post
3 hours ago
Trump Blocks Federal Funding to Groups that Make Abortion Referrals
7 hours ago

"The Trump administration took aim at Planned Parenthood Friday, issuing a rule barring groups that provide abortions or abortion referrals from participating in the $286 million federal family planning program — a move that is expected to direct millions toward faith-based providers."

House Expects Tuesday Vote to End National Emergency
10 hours ago

"The House plans to vote Tuesday on legislation to formally block President Donald Trump’s attempt to circumvent Congress to fund his border wall, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Friday. The privileged resolution to stop Trump’s emergency declaration — which has 226 co-sponsors, including one Republican — is expected to easily pass the House. It then will be voted in the Senate within 18 days."

Trump Signs Border Deal
1 weeks ago

"President Trump signed a sweeping spending bill Friday afternoon, averting another partial government shutdown. The action came after Trump had declared a national emergency in a move designed to circumvent Congress and build additional barriers at the southern border, where he said the United States faces 'an invasion of our country.'"

Trump Declares National Emergency
1 weeks ago

"President Donald Trump on Friday declared a state of emergency on the southern border and immediately direct $8 billion to construct or repair as many as 234 miles of a border barrier. The move — which is sure to invite vigorous legal challenges from activists and government officials — comes after Trump failed to get the $5.7 billion he was seeking from lawmakers. Instead, Trump agreed to sign a deal that included just $1.375 for border security."


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.