Popular incumbent Gov. Charlie Baker will face former state budget chief and health insurance executive Jay Gonzalez in a general election matchup pitting two candidates against each other with competing visions for how the state should pay for education, housing and transportation now and into the future.
Baker, who cruised to a primary victory Tuesday over conservative Springfield pastor Scott Lively, highlighted his opposition to higher taxes in a victory speech at a restaurant in Dorchester, also touting 180,000 new jobs since he took office and a record low high school dropout rate.
Gonzalez, meanwhile, launched his general election campaign promising to deliver affordable child care and pre-school in his first term, to “fully fund” public education and to move Massachusetts to a single-payer health care system.
“I get it. It is a relief to have a governor who seems nice and isn’t a crazy right wing extremist. With Donald Trump setting the bar so low, nice and not crazy seems pretty good. But it’s not good enough. Not for us,” Gonzalez said.
Both Baker and Gonzalez looked poised to win by similar margins, each with roughly 65 percent of the vote in their respective party primaries with more than two-thirds of the votes counted, though the number of Democratic ballots cast far exceeded those voting in the GOP primary.
Gonzalez, who served in Gov. Deval Patrick’s cabinet before leaving government to run the health insurance company CeltiCare, solidly defeated Bob Massie, a Somerville environmental activist and entrepreneur, in a primary contest that came to be seen as the classic insider-versus-outsider contest.
“There’s going to be a very clear choice in this election,” Gonzalez told reporters, indicating his hope to harness some of the energy on the Democratic side that helped sweep progressives like Ayanna Pressley into office on Tuesday night.
Gonzalez will run against the GOP ticket of Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito with former Obama administration official Quentin Palfrey, who defeated political satirist and comedian Jimmy Tingle in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor.
Baker, who accepted his party’s nomination at Venezia restaurant in Dorchester, ticked through many his administration’s accomplishments, from partnerships with municipalities to clean energy promotion and moving the homeless out of hotels and motels.
“Today, four years later, our state is on the rise. Our economy is booming. Our schools are the best in the nation. And hope and possibility is blooming in every corner of the commonwealth,” Baker said.
The governor also said that despite passing two bills to combat the opioid epidemic, there was more to do on that front. He also mentioned housing production legislation that stalled in the Legislature this year.
“Finally, we need to respect the taxpayer by continuing to make state government work smarter and better --- and by standing up to the urge by many on Beacon Hill to just raise taxes,” Baker said.
Baker remains one of the most popular governors in the country, which worked to scare off many Democrat donors during the primary cycle as Gonzalez and Massie both struggled to raise money.
In addition to his strong standing with voters, Baker holds a sizable advantage over Gonzalez in fundraising with $6.3 million in the bank at the end of August compared to Gonzalez’s $366,000. The Republican Governors Association has also poured $2.8 million so far into the Commonwealth Future super PAC to support Baker.
While it remains to be seen if the Democratic Governors Association will invest in the Gonzalez-Palfrey ticket, the organization headed by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee congratulated Gonzalez on his win.
“As the son of an immigrant, Jay joins the most diverse class of Democratic nominees ever. Jay Gonzalez has served the people of Massachusetts, helping to expand access to health care, invest in early education and manage the state’s budget under Gov. Deval Patrick. Jay will be a leader for all Massachusetts families, and will push back against President Trump’s policies that are harming Massachusetts,” said Jared Leopold, a spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association. “
Neither Baker nor Gonzalez targeted each other directly on Tuesday night in their speeches, but the battle line being drawn were clear.
Gonzalez spoke about building a transportation system that commuters can count on to get to work on time, while Baker said his administration will invest $8 billion over the next five years, or $5 billion more than the last five years of Deval Patrick’s administration.
Attorney General Maura Healey came to the Boston Teachers Union Hall in Dorchester to introduce Gonzalez to the small crowd of volunteers and supporters.
“I’m ready for a governor who knows that in the time that we are in, especially, that failing to lead means falling behind,” said Healey, who was critical of Baker when Democrats gathered for their part convention in June. “I’m ready for Jay Gonzalez.”
Auditor Suzanne Bump, who faces her own re-election challenge this fall against Republican Helen Brady, also joined Gonzalez on stage. Bump had endorsed Gonzalez before the party’s convention in June.
“Jay actually has vision. He’s willing to take positions on difficult issues. He’s willing to take some risks in order to move the state forward,” Bump said about Gonzalez’s chances against Baker, who she called a “play-it-safe governor.”