Gov. Charlie Baker, a two-term Republican who at his peak was one of the most popular governors in the country, will not seek a third term, throwing wide open the 2022 race for the state's top political office after close to two years of managing through a global pandemic.
Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, who was widely considered to be the heir to the Baker political legacy, has also decided against a run for governor in 2022, dramatically reshaping the contest on the Republican side and, perhaps, clearing a path for Attorney General Maura Healey to enter the race on the Democratic side.
"After several months of discussion with our families, we have decided not to seek re-election in 2022. This was an extremely difficult decision for us. We love the work, and we especially respect and admire the people of this wonderful Commonwealth. Serving as Governor and Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts has been the most challenging and fulfilling jobs we've ever had. We will forever be grateful to the people of this state for giving us this great honor," Baker and Polito said in a joint statement.
Baker began telling friends and allies of his decision over the past 24 hours, and informed his Cabinet during a meeting Wednesday morning. The governor and lieutenant governor, in their statement, cited the need to focus on building an economic recovery as Massachusetts emerges from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We have a great deal of work to do to put the pandemic behind us, keep our kids in school, and keep our communities and economy moving forward. That work cannot and should not be about politics and the next election. If we were to run, it would be a distraction that would potentially get in the way of many of the things we should be working on for everyone in Massachusetts. We want to focus on recovery, not on the grudge matches political campaigns can devolve into," Baker and Polito said.
Republican Geoff Diehl, a former state lawmaker, has already entered the race for his party's nomination with the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, and three Democrats -- Harvard professor Danielle Allen, former state Sen. Ben Downing, and Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz -- are also running.
Healey, the popular Democratic prosecutor, is also weighing a bid and could be more inclined to enter the fray with Baker out of the running. She has previously said she hoped to make a decision about her political future this fall.
In addition to the polarized political environment, both Baker and Polito said the pandemic helped them realize the importance of taking time for family and friends after the grind of eight years leading the state.
"Done right, these jobs require an extraordinary amount of time and attention, and we love doing them. But we both want to be there with Lauren and Steve and our children for the moments, big and small, that our families will experience going forward," the pair said.
Recent polling has suggested that Baker could fair well in hypothetical matchups against the Democrats running or thinking about running, but he would also face a potentially bruising Republican primary as his relationship with the base of his party has frayed in the Trump era.
Baker did not support Trump during either of the former president's runs for the White House, and Baker's approval ratings are stronger among Democrats and independents than with voters in his own party.
Though it has been suggested in some political circles that Baker could run as an independent in 2022, the governor has brushed that notion aside, professing a belief in his brand of Republicanism molded under his political mentors former Govs. Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci.
"We are determined to continue to put aside the partisan playbook that dominates so much of our political landscape – to form governing partnerships with our colleagues in local government, the Legislature, and the Congressional delegation. That bipartisan approach, where we listen as much as we talk, where we focus our energies on finding areas of agreement and not disagreement, and where we avoid the public sniping and grandstanding that defines much of our political discourse, allows us to make meaningful progress on many important issues," Baker and Polito said.
Baker would have been the first governor in recent memory to run for three terms. The last governor to serve three four-year terms was Democrat Michael Dukakis, though his terms were non-consecutive.