Baker racks up cash for reelection bid

Gov. Charlie Baker

BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker hasn't yet filed to run for reelection, but the Republican has amassed a campaign war chest meant to intimidate potential Democratic rivals.

Baker had more than $6.6 million in his campaign coffers as of Oct. 15, according to the latest reports filed with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Baker's presumed running mate in 2018, has banked another $3 million in her campaign account. That gives the Republican duo nearly $10 million combined, with more than a year until the gubernatorial election.

"The goal of raising this kind of money is to intimidate potential Democratic challengers from running against him," said Jeffrey Berry, a political science professor at Tufts University. "He wants to crush any opponent."

David Drummond, finance director for Baker’s political committee, said his fundraising prowess reflects voter support for his key priorities.

“Gov. Baker and Lt. Gov. Polito have secured tax breaks for working families, increased funding for public education while stopping wasteful spending, so it’s no surprise that they continue to receive support from across Massachusetts,” Drummond said in a statement.

“Their bipartisan approach to getting things done is resonating, and we are grateful for the support," he added.

Baker is benefiting from a change in campaign finance laws signed by Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick in 2014 that doubled the maximum annual donation from $500 to $1,000. More than half of his contributions since January 2015 have come in $1,000 denominations, according to his disclosures.

Locally Baker's fundraising has relied heavily on affluent communities north of Boston.

Supporters from his hometown of Swampscott have contributed generously, pumping nearly $165,000 into his campaign account since he took office in January 2015. Marblehead donors have given nearly $129,000.

Manchester has contributed $41,500; Newburyport $22,430; and Gloucester about $18,500, reports show.

Baker hasn't done as well in blue-collar Democratic strongholds, including Salem. Salem supporters have given about $25,000.

More than $900,000 of the money Baker has raised since taking office has come from out of state, according to his campaign reports.

Democrats lagging

Three declared Democrats in the governor’s race are well behind Baker in the chase for money.

Jay Gonzalez, who served as secretary of administration and finance under Patrick, has raised nearly $400,000 since entering the race in January.

He has spent $321,112 on his campaign and had about $39,000 left in his account as of Oct. 16, according to his reports.

Newton Mayor Setti Warren has raised about $230,000 since he announced his candidacy in May. He had about $33,000 as of Oct. 17.

Environmental activist Robert Massie of Somerville has raised about $115,000 to date, and he has about $12,000 on hand.

Gonzalez said he isn’t worried about Baker's fundraising advantage.

"We'll have more than enough resources to be successful," he said. "We don't need to raise what Charlie Baker did. We just need enough to raise enough to support a grassroots campaign. We've already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, and we're seeing more momentum."

Gonzalez described a fundraising tactic in which Baker’s supporters give to national committees, which are subject to higher federal contribution limits. He calls it the "Baker Loophole" and accused the governor of exploiting campaign finance laws.

"He is circumventing state contribution limits by funneling money through the state and national Republican parties to benefit his own campaign,” said Gonzalez. "He's figured out a way to ask wealthy insiders for huge donations, and that means they'll have undue influence over him and public policy in the state."

Baker's campaign advisors say they're not violating any state or federal campaign finance laws.

Popular governor

Democrats outnumber Republicans 3 to 1 among registered voters in the state, where Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton soundly beat President Donald Trump in the 2016 general election. Democrats control the state Legislature and hold the state’s other constitutional offices.

But Baker remains extremely popular, and Democrats face an uphill battle in trying to unseat him.

A recent poll by Morning Consult called him the “nation’s most popular governor,” citing his 75 percent favorability rating.

To be sure, Baker has distanced himself from Trump and far-right conservatives. He’s won praise locally for working with Democrats on myriad issues such as reforming the MBTA and combating opioid addiction. He’s also won support from big-name Democrats such as Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who suggested he might cross party lines to vote for Baker next year.

Regardless of the Democrat chosen to challenge Baker, the North Shore and Merrimack Valley will likely be a major battleground. In 2014, when Baker narrowly beat former Attorney General Martha Coakley by about 40,000 votes statewide, he won a majority of communities in the region north of Boston.

Coakley took cities including Salem, Lynn, Gloucester and Lawrence, but she lost in Marblehead, Newburyport, Andover, Methuen and Haverhill.

“It’s hard to beat an incumbent,” said Mary McHugh, a political science professor at Merrimack College. "Especially a popular one like Charlie Baker."

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for The Salem News and its sister newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@cnhi.com.

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