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Baker edges Coakley to seize corner office from Dems

PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

By Matt Murphy

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

BOSTON — Four years after coming up short in his quest for the top statewide office in Massachusetts, Republican Charlie Baker declared victory early Wednesday morning in his race for governor, though Democrat Martha Coakley had not yet conceded the race.

The pendulum swung back and forth throughout the night Tuesday as votes trickled in from around the state and Baker and Coakley traded leads in a race that remained too tight to call until the early Wednesday.

“It’s been a long, long ride. And it’s been bumpy at times. But we always knew that our vision to make this state great, improve our economy, close that achievement gap in education, bring the kind of fiscal discipline and balance to Beacon Hill and bipartisanship that so many people responded to over the course of this campaign was the right way to go,” Baker said during a subdued victory speech just before 1:30 a.m. “Tonight the voters said, ‘Yes.'”

Baker praised Coakley for running a hard fought campaign, and when a few of his supporters started booing, the apparent governor-elect scolded them from the podium. “Hey hey, no, none of that,” he said.

“We’ve been watching the results on the telly this evening, and it’s been quite a ride,” Baker told the crowd still gathered in the full ballroom at the Seaport Hotel in South Boston.

Baker said he spoke to Coakley shortly after 1 a.m. and the attorney general said she wanted to wait until the morning to see the final results. “I’m perfectly fine to give her until the morning to see the results come it,” Baker said. “That’s the way it works folks, and that’s the way it should work.”

The Coakley campaign sent its supporters home from the Fairmont Copley Hotel not long after midnight without the candidate speaking, though her campaign continued to communicate with Baker’s team.

Coakley left the Fairmont Copley Hotel at 12:50 a.m., declining to comment to a News Service reporter. Television news broadcasts showed her returning to her Medford home with her husband.

Trailing Baker and Polito by a percentage point with 92 percent of precincts reporting, Coakley’s running mate Stephen Kerrigan told the crowd just after midnight it remained an “incredibly close race,” and thanked supporters for their patience.

“There are plenty of communities out there that have yet to count every vote. And Martha and I believe, as I know all of you do, that every vote cast here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts deserves to be counted,” Kerrigan said to cheers.

A little later in the morning, the Associated Press and other networks called the race for Baker with the Republican and his running mate Karyn Polito leading Coakley and Kerrigan by 36,370 votes, or 1.7 percentage points, with 98 percent of precincts reporting.

Thanking his supporters, Baker said, “Let’s face it, in this election every vote counted.”

With Baker standing on the precipice of the governorship, his victory would once again give the GOP Republicans a toehold on Beacon Hill after eight years of Democrats controlling both the governor’s office and both branches of the Legislature.

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, who picked up at least two new members to his caucus on Tuesday night, said he didn’t see a path to victory for Coakley. “He’s got to try to govern in a bipartisan way, there’s no doubt about it, and that’s why you’re seeing people vote for him,” Tarr said.

“This is pretty crazy,” House Minority Leader Brad Jones told WCVB-TV early Wednesday morning. Jones said, “I thought it would be a close race. This is Massachusetts. You’re running against the machine.”

U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, who much earlier in the night celebrated victory for his first full term to the Senate, called it a “wait-and-see game.”

“This is not going to end soon. We have to count every ballot,” Markey said.

Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, a Coakley supporter, said he’d never seen anything quite like it. “We’re all waiting with great anticipation,” he said.

After eight years of solid Democratic control in the State House, Baker, 57, is poised to become the first candidate to win a race for governor after losing four years prior since former Gov. Michael Dukakis did it in 1982 to secure his second of three terms.

While Republicans were shut out of the other statewide offices, the GOP celebrated Baker’s victory Tuesday at South Boston’s Seaport Hotel as a new start for the party.

Baker, on the campaign trail, has pledged to work with Democratic leadership in the House and Senate, which itself will be under new leadership come January, while also restoring a level of balance to state government that has been one-sided since former Gov. Mitt Romney walked out of office and onto the presidential campaign trail.

“We can’t wait to make this state sing,” Baker said.

Riding a wave of outside money and projecting a more optimistic and forward thinking persona than voters saw from him in 2010, Baker was able to appeal to a wide swath of independent voters, while also picking up pockets of traditional Democratic support by campaigning in urban areas often written off by Republicans.

With the support of a super PAC nationally funded by the Republican Governors Association, the GOP outspent Democrats in the race for governor by a 9-to-1 margin in a flurry of television ads and direct mail.

Baker came up through the ranks of government as a health and human services and finance secretary under Republican Govs. Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci. He went on to run Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, rescuing the company from near bankruptcy and using his experience as CEO to pitch himself as an effective executive who can improve the efficiency of state government and rectify some of the management issues that have plagued agencies like the Department of Children and Families.

Baker has pledged not to raise taxes or fees, and put forward a slate of tax breaks for small employers to stimulate economic growth and offset minimum wage hikes that he supported.

He also proposed tax credits for businesses that hire welfare recipients and veterans as part of his promise to rigorously enforce new welfare laws designed to get people off public assistance and into the workforce.

Baker also pledged to increase local aid to cities and towns by the same growth rate as state revenues, and to raise the cap on charter schools to ensure parents have more school choices, particularly in struggling urban districts.

Coakley, who tried by came up short in her bid to exorcise the demons from her 2010 U.S. Senate loss to Scott Brown, ran a campaign focused on expanding access to pre-school education and regional economic growth strategies.

She also engaged in some of the retail politics she was criticized for eschewed in 2010, going to Gillette Stadium on the final weekend of the campaign to shake hands with tailgaters.

“She put her heart and her soul and every ounce of energy that she had into that race,” Baker said Wednesday morning.

Gintautas Dumcius contributed reporting.

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