Pop­u­lar gov­er­nors defy anti-Repub­li­can wave

Ho­gan, Baker tread care­fully with par­ti­san ide­ol­ogy in deep-blue states

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DAVID SHERFIN­SKI

Repub­li­cans Char­lie Baker of Mas­sachusetts and Larry Ho­gan of Mary­land are the two most pop­u­lar gov­er­nors in Amer­ica, and they are cruis­ing to re-elec­tion in two of the bluest states in the coun­try.

While the rest of the coun­try braces for a po­ten­tial anti-Repub­li­can wave, Mr. Baker and Mr. Ho­gan have over­seen strong state economies and found ways to avoid the nasty di­vi­sions over Pres­i­dent Trump that have en­snared the po­lit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tion in so many other races.

They have hewed to the cen­ter on hot­but­ton is­sues such as im­mi­gra­tion and have avoided Trump-style rhetor­i­cal bombs, leav­ing them with ap­proval rat­ings that would be the envy of any gov­er­nor.

“They are not in love with Don­ald Trump even though they are in the GOP,” said Louis Ja­cob­son, a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst who hand­i­caps gu­ber­na­to­rial races for Gov­ern­ing magazine. “It’s a com­bi­na­tion of po­lit­i­cal re­al­i­ties that they’re sort of bend­ing to, and also their own per­sonal pref­er­ences and ide­ol­ogy.”

Mr. Baker had a 70 per­cent ap­proval rat­ing, and Mr. Ho­gan was at 67 per­cent — first and sec­ond in the coun­try, re­spec­tively — ac­cord­ing to Morn­ing Con­sult’s lat­est tally sheet.

That’s partly be­cause they re­tain solid Repub­li­can sup­port and have been able to build bridges across the aisle.

In­deed, more Democrats than Repub­li­cans said in a Suf­folk Univer­sity poll re­leased last month that they ap­prove of the job Mr. Baker is do­ing.

David Pa­le­ol­o­gos, di­rec­tor of the Suf­folk Univer­sity Po­lit­i­cal Re­search Cen­ter, said that sur­vey was taken right af­ter a Sept. 4 pri­mary in which Mr. Baker fended off a con­ser­va­tive chal­lenger, which may have af­fected the num­bers. But he said it’s clear that Mr. Baker runs strong among in­de­pen­dent vot­ers, whose bloc is the real “big prize” in Mas­sachusetts.

Fifty-nine per­cent of Repub­li­cans, 71 per­cent of Democrats and 76 per­cent of in­de­pen­dents said they ap­prove of the job Mr. Baker is do­ing.

“Baker’s in­de­pen­dent stances on a wide va­ri­ety of is­sues play to those vot­ers,” Mr. Pa­le­ol­o­gos said.

Mr. Baker is pro-choice and signed leg­is­la­tion this year to re­peal pre-Roe v. Wade abor­tion re­stric­tions as an in­surance pol­icy in case the U.S. Supreme Court over­turns the 1973 de­ci­sion that cre­ated a na­tional right to abor­tion.

He also wrote a let­ter to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion chal­leng­ing its moves to re­strict fed­eral fund­ing for cer­tain fam­ily plan­ning ser­vices.

The bal­anc­ing act has cre­ated some headaches.

At a re­cent de­bate with Demo­cratic op­po­nent Jay Gon­za­lez, he ini­tially de­clined to say whether he would per­son­ally vote for Repub­li­can Ge­off Diehl, a staunchly proTrump Repub­li­can chal­leng­ing Demo­cratic Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren. He even­tu­ally said he would back the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee.

Mr. Baker and Mr. Ho­gan have also tacked to­ward the cen­ter in some cases on the is­sue of gun con­trol. Every­town for Gun Safety, the gun con­trol group co-founded by for­mer New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, re­cently en­dorsed Mr. Baker for re-elec­tion.

Mr. Ho­gan also said this year that he would re­ject any en­dorse­ment from the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion af­ter win­ning its sup­port in 2014.

Such cal­cu­la­tions ap­pear to be work­ing. Po­lit­i­cal hand­i­cap­pers say both in­cum­bents are likely to win next month.

Mr. Ho­gan has close to a 19-point lead over Demo­cratic chal­lenger Ben Jeal­ous in the lat­est Real Clear Pol­i­tics av­er­age, and Mr. Baker is in an even stronger po­si­tion, lead­ing Mr. Gon­za­lez by 35 points.

Repub­li­can Party strate­gist Ford O’Con­nell said Repub­li­can vot­ers will give some lee­way to the gov­er­nors on key party is­sues such as gun con­trol and abor­tion if that’s what it takes to win in tough ar­eas.

“There’s no point in be­ing able to push the map and go to places where we don’t nor­mally go just be­cause some­one isn’t a pure polemic and then cut off our nose to spite our­selves,” Mr. O’Con­nell said.

Left with­out room to cam­paign in the cen­ter, the gov­er­nors’ Demo­cratic op­po­nents have coun­tered by ad­vanc­ing sweep­ing left-wing agen­das such as uni­ver­sal gov­ern­ment-spon­sored health care, hik­ing the min­i­mum wage and of­fer­ing debt-free col­lege.

The Jeal­ous cam­paign said it thinks that tac­tic is work­ing in Mary­land. He pointed to an uptick in ab­sen­tee bal­lot re­quests as ev­i­dence that the blue state is en­er­gized over a lib­eral cham­pion.

Vot­ers “want Mary­land to get back to de­liv­er­ing on big achieve­ments, whether that’s lead­ing the na­tion in pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion or mak­ing sure we all have ac­cess to af­ford­able and high-qual­ity health care,” Mr. Jeal­ous said.

Still, polling sug­gests that vot­ers are con­tent with their mod­er­ate gov­er­nors — even as both states are poised to re-elect avowedly lib­eral U.S. sen­a­tors. That means many vot­ers in Mas­sachusetts will cast a bal­lot for Mr. Baker and for left-wing cham­pion Ms. War­ren.

Those crossover vot­ers could be peo­ple who like the direc­tion their states are go­ing but op­pose Mr. Trump and want that op­po­si­tion rep­re­sented in Wash­ing­ton, said Todd Eberly, a po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor at St. Mary’s Col­lege of Mary­land.

“[Mr. Ho­gan] has noth­ing to do with what’s hap­pen­ing in Wash­ing­ton,” he said. “It points to vot­ers as be­ing a bit more so­phis­ti­cated than some­times peo­ple think they are, and I think that’s some­thing that we some­times lose sight of.”

Both men have also been will­ing to break pub­licly with Mr. Trump when nec­es­sary, par­tic­u­larly on im­mi­gra­tion. Both with­drew state Na­tional Guard troops from the south­ern bor­der this year over the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s zero-tol­er­ance bor­der en­force­ment pol­icy.


Repub­li­can gov­er­nors Larry Ho­gan of Mary­land (left) and Char­lie Barker of Mas­sachusetts, have steered clear of hot-but­ton is­sues in Wash­ing­ton.

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