1 Baker and Coakley BG

^ Baker stumbles, recovers, and polls well ; Martha Coakley pounces — but mishandles even that.

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Charlie Baker, GOP candidate for Governor, got a huge present yesterday : a new Boston Globe poll according hm his best numbers yet. In a matchup with likely Democratic nominee Martha Coakley he now gets 35 to her 40, with a full one-quarter of voters still undecided or supporting one of the non-party candidates.

This was good news indeed — and there was more: I’ll discuss it below — especially after days in which Baker, running as the accomplished manager of state government, stumbled in his management of himself.

On Wednesday he told the Boston Globe that “Hobby Lobby doesn’t change a thing in Massachusetts, because our own health care law accords women all their health care needs.”

Immediately all three Democratic candidates charged Baker with going South on women’s health care — Coakley, in her typical classless fashion, used Baker’s remarks to fuel a fundraising letter.

Actually, all three Democrats didn’t know the whole story. On Wednesday night Baker’s wife Lauren and his running mate, Karyn Polito, were on stage at NARAL’s “Supreme rally.” Both gave me — I was there as a WGBH journalist — statements in which they made very clear their outrage about both the Hobby Lobby and Buffer Zone Law rulings. I thus knew that the statement that Baker gave to the Globe could not be the entire picture.

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^ GOP Lieutenant Governor candidate Karyn Polito at Supreme rally : she gave me this statement : “I have always supported women’s rights to access health care and am here to protest the Supreme Court rulings !”

Next day, in fact, Baker reversed his remarks. He agreed that there might be some corporations in Massachusetts that would qualify under the Hobby Lobby ruling (in which the Court gave closely-held corporations an exemption from the ACA’s requirements on Freedom of Religion Act grounds)  for an exemption from providing women employees full access to contraceptive health care. “If that happens,” Baker said, “my administration will provide these women contraceptive health care through public funding.” Baker also encouraged Governor Patrick and legislators to devise a new abortion clinic “protection zone” in light of the Buffer zone law being struck down.

All good; and, in fact, the misspeak gave Baker a chance, in the full glare of news, to make clear his uncompromising support for women’s full access to health care, including pregnancy care.

That part of the flap will end; and it’s likely that Baker will now have many media opportunities to repeat his strong support for women’s health care. But he did stumble; and as the “competent manager’ candidate, Baker should not be stumbling how he manages his own statements. It better not happen again. Baker needs to be sure of himself, to speak his true mind and not to try to hedge — which is what I think he was attempting. Vital issues like women’s health care cannot be compromised away or smoothed; a Massachusetts governor has to be vocal, strong, morally sure of the right thing — as was Mayor Marty Walsh in his speech at the Supreme rally. Baker would do well to study vidclips of that speech and to adopt Walsh’s indignant moral certainty about the rights of women and of all. it’s what we expect, — and always have expected — here in Massachusetts, of our political leaders.

And now to the Boston Globe poll. If its findings are accurate, Baker stands in a very good position to be our next governor :

His favorable-unfavorable rating is 47 favorable, only 18 unfavorable. Yes, 20 percent of voters still don’t recognize his name. that needs be worked on.

Coakley’s numbers ? Not quite as good as Charlie’s. 54 favorable;le, 36 unfavorable. But only 6 percent of voters don’t recognize her.

Coakley’s the dominant Democrat.  Steve Grossman’s numbers are 32 percent favorable, 13 unfavorable, 55 percent unsure or don’t know him. Don Berwick, for all the news noise he has made, barely registers with voters : 10 percent favorable, 4 percent unfavorable, a full 86 percent unsure or don’t know him. Two months from primary day, Martha Coakley absolutely commands : 53 percent to Grossman’s 17 and Berwick’s 5.

The poll also shows that Massachusetts voters feel optimistic about our state’s economy and lifestyle. Asked to agree or disagree with the statement “living in Massachusetts is very expensive but worth it,”  a full 65 percent say it’s worth it, only 30 percent say it isn’t worth it.

Those who oppose casinos will also have to accept that their view is, thankfully, a minority position. 51 of voters say “keep the casino law in place”; 41 percent say repeal it.

Charlie Baker in this poll looks well positioned, despite all — despite the national GOP’s depressing negativity–  to be our next Governor : IF he can win a majority of the 20 percent still undecided. He will find himself leading voters who are glad to live in Massachusetts, even at great expense; who feel confident about the future; who care a lot about women’s health care rights, and who want an open, tolerant, liberal society — and will have it, well managed from the State House, assuming the manager candidate doesn’t fumble his advantage away.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere




1 Baker and Coakley BG

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^ difficult days for Charlie baker, good days for Martha Coakley and Don Berwick

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Two rulings handed down by the Supreme Court last week threaten to affect Massachusetts’s Governor election significantly. the boost Martha Coakley — already a clear favorite –and Don Berwick, and they set back those of Steve Grossman and Charlie Baker.

The Hobby Lobby ruling has the wider impact. Because it allows corporations to deny contraceptive health care to women on grounds of “deeply held religious faith”: — faith that permits men to obtain Viagra, by the way — it arouses all women voters : score for Coakley. but because the High Court also suggested that women could obtain contraceptive health care from the Federal government as part of Medicare, it seemed to endorse the “single payer” (Medicare) system : and that’s a score for Don Berwick, who has made adoption of “single payer a priority of his campaign.

The Buffer Zone Law ruling — it was found unconstitutional by 9 to 0 — probably impacts the campaign even more deeply. The law at issue was our state’s. Hobby Lobbys there are none here, and few corporations that would use religion as a route to denying health care to women. But every woman who seeks clinical advice on a pregnancy is now faced with being confronted by perfect strangers getting into these women’ s most personal private body business. It;s not a prospect that anyone I know would welcome. It has happened to me, on other matters. I was able to see off, with a pleasantry or an unanswerable question, these interrupters of my life. Women confronted so might not be so lucky, nor want to chance it. And even though the Buffer Zone Law ruling was unanimous, and certainly correct from a first amendment point of view — after all, as a supporter of the ruling pointed out to me, the Curt allows panhandlers to be in our faces, what’s different here ? — women affected won’t take it as such. They will feel, see, almost smell the confrontations they now must put up with, ad they can’t like that the Court put them in that space.

Martha Coakley defended the Buffer Law fiercely. She has promised to forge a different means of safeguarding women from such confrontations. So has Governor Patrick. i hope they find a way, because otherwise it means hiring hundreds of special duty police to patrol outside pregnancy clinics.

While Coakley has gone on the attack — as she should — Charlie Baker has said nothing. He has avoided the issue. I fully understand. It aggravates his weaknesses. As the GOP candidate, he heads a coalition that includes the state’s “pro life” voters, who tolerate his solid pro-choice position because they suspect that he will, at least, listen to them and will not make protection of women’s health rights a priority, and because they know that Coakley, Berwick, and Grossman will in fact make women’s health care a priority. I think these Baker voters are right, and that’s the problem; I suspect that the crucial block of women voters who will decide this election also know it.

Or, if they didn’t know it, or care much, because women’s health rights are so firmly established in Massachusetts, they do now care because even in Massachusetts those tights are now threatened by Supreme Court decisions.

Baker has not had a good two weeks. Today’s Boston Globe poll has him losing to Coakley by 40 to 31 and drawing only 9 % of Democratic voters. In Massachusetts a GOP candidate usually needs 18 to 20 %^ of Democrats to win — in his 2012 loss, Scott Brown won 12 % of Democrats. (I shall analyze the Globe poll in a separate column to come later today.) The recent WBUR poll had even les good news for Baker. It showed him losing to Coakley 42 to 28; and though it also shows him beating Steve Grossman and trouncing Don Berwick, Coakley has maintained a strong lead almost throughout this year and can only get stronger as a result of the High court rulings. Baker’s campaign has also begun to narrow its focus : business, business, business. we all like businesses; but Massachusetts is a “values” state — fortunately our values are entirely progressive ones — and for Baker to not step to the forefront of voicing Massachusetts values is to concede the election. No more can — or should — a Massachusetts election be only about business than it can be only about Labor.

When a candidate narrows his focus, retreating to his core, as did the campaign of Scott Brown in 2012 after polls turned against him, it’s a sign that he is being pushed out of the center. Baker ran a smart, aggressive, ground breaking campaign until mid-June, one that connected him city voters, voicing city voters’ concerns and turning the flank of a very suburban, high-income Democratic Primary. now that has all changed. The Democrats have taken back much of the city voter action. they’ve held Forums in the city, dug deeply into voters who have been theirs all along until for six months or so they were ignored.

Baker will still do better in the big cities than Scott Brown did. He can’t be dislodged in Essex County, and he likely has a solid core of support in Worcester. In Boston, too, he holds strong cards in several ethnic communities. But I see no sign right now that the receptivity to baker that held sway six weeks ago still rules. How can it after these two Court rulings ? For women voters, it’s now war time. And war time means, fr these women, supporting Martha Coakley, like her or not. My guess is that the Court rulings gain her two to four points — a lot in what might have been a close election.

The only person who I see with a chance to stop Coakley is Don Berwick. In a Democratic Primary, his strong advocacy of single payer now makes timely sense, compelling sense. and if he is not a woman, as is Coakley, he is trusted by Democratic activists, as Coakley is not, and addresses Massachusetts values far more eloquently than Coakley and with passion that she utterly lacks. Given that Grossman cannot out-woman Coakley or even begin to compete with Berwick’s passionate advocacy, it would mot surprise me to see Berwick win the Primary.

Could he then beat Baker ? In such a race baker would be the Coakley : the hard to pin down, long explanation, out of focus candidate — versus Berwick, the ultimate heat of passion candidate. Baker could win that comparison if he sounds wise and competent, as he usually can, and Berwick sounds like a hell-burner, as he often does.

As far as I can tell right now, this prospect is Baker’s only chance of winning the office he is so naturally fit to perform.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere