By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE — At a recent conference in Florida, a grateful Governor-elect Charlie Baker said the Republican Governors Association made a “huge difference” in his recent election, a change in rhetoric from the campaign when he critiqued the tone of an RGA-funded advertisement.
“First of all I want to just thank the RGA for your support in both elections. It made a huge difference in our campaign and our ability to compete in a state where . . . 11 percent of the electorate are Republicans,” Baker said from the Boca Raton stage he shared with newly elected Republican governors from Arkansas, Texas, Maryland and Arizona.
During the campaign, Baker’s Democratic opponent, Attorney General Martha Coakley, protested an ad funded by the RGA that featured images of empty playground equipment and knocked Coakley on child welfare, saying she had “failed our most vulnerable citizens.”
“I don’t like the tone of the ad. It reminds me of the tone of a lot of the ads that have been run against me,” Baker said at the time. He also said he thought the issue raised in the ad was valid and declined on several occasions to call for the RGA-funded Commonwealth Future super PAC to stop running the ad.
Commonwealth Future spent $11.8 million during the campaign boosting Baker and criticizing Coakley, according to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance. According to OCPF, the Democratic Governors Association donated $1.4 million to a super PAC that backed Coakley. After the election, Coakley said an influx of outside money had given Baker an advantage.
At the panel discussion during the RGA’s meeting in Florida, other governors-elect thanked the organization, which RGA Executive Director Phil Cox called “the most impactful successful political committee in the country.” Cox noted that Illinois, Maryland, Arkansas and Massachusetts had flipped to Republican-led chief executives, and said two thirds of the country will be under Republican leadership.
“The RGA had my back. The RGA was able to come in at a critical moment when the Democratic Governors Association spent a million dollars in attack ads against me right after the primary,” said Asa Hutchinson, the incoming governor in Arkansas. “The RGA was there with a response ad that was just perfect, covered me, and it allowed me to continue with what I wanted to do for Arkansas. And so we were able to run a positive, agenda-oriented campaign – made all of the difference in the world.”
The Nov. 20 panel discussion is available on C-SPAN.org.
Baker also credited endorsements he received from Democrats, and even looked ahead to a re-election campaign, saying, “I’ll look forward to running on our record when 2018 rolls around.”
“If you’re a Democrat and you come out and endorse a Republican in a statewide race you are absolutely taking a chance with your political future and your political life. And a lot of them did that anyway because they bought into what we’re selling,” Baker told the audience, saying that people were surprised when he selected Chelsea City Manager Jay Ash, a Democrat, for his cabinet.
“Now a lot of people were shocked and amazed that the newly elected Republican governor appointed a Democrat from Chelsea – where obviously I didn’t do that well on election day – to be our secretary of economic affairs and community development – but that is exactly the kind of person we were looking for,” Baker said.
Baker is part of the class of Republicans elected with the help of RGA Chairman Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey. “You gotta take chances,” said Christie, who said the RGA’s priority was also protecting its 19 incumbents.
Baker came to regret a $10,000 donation he made to the New Jersey Republican Party. That donation, which was followed by the New Jersey pension fund investing with a company where Baker was an executive in residence, led to pay-to-play suspicions from some. New Jersey’s Department of the Treasury is reviewing whether General Catalyst complied with the necessary regulations to do business with the state pension, according to a New Jersey Treasury spokesman.
Christie highlighted Baker’s close victory and said the RGA had unsuccessfully bid for victories in Colorado, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
In New England, Democrats Dannel Malloy, of Connecticut, and Maggie Hassan, of New Hampshire, won re-election to governorships, as did Republican Paul LePage, of Maine.
Rhode Island Democrat Gina Raimondo won a first term in the governor’s office. In Vermont, the outcome is still undecided. Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, reportedly received more votes than his Republican challenger Scott Milne, but failed to win an outright majority leaving the decision to the Legislature in January.