Did Charlie Baker win last week’s state primary?

He was not on last week’s primary ballot, but Charlie Baker – or at least his brand of more middle-of-the-road pragmatism – actually had a good day at the polls, at least, ironically, in the Democratic primary. 

That was one big takeaway from the Massachusetts primary results offered up on this week’s Codcast by Samantha Gross, a State House reporter for the Boston Globe, and Liam Kerr, an organizer of the center-left policy group Priorities for Progress. 

Kerr said the “most important quote of the election” came from Cambridge state Rep. Mike Connolly, a left-leaning Democrat who was not necessarily thrilled with its outcome. “Democratic primary voters have been saying for years now that they support the moderate politics of Gov. Charlie Baker,” Connolly told Politico’s Lisa Kashinsky following Tuesday’s primary. 

That hardly seemed lost on Democratic gubernatorial nominee Maura Healey, who name-checked Baker twice in her victory speech on Tuesday night. 

The favorites of many progressive activists and organizations in Democratic statewide races either bowed out before Tuesday’s balloting or went down to defeat. “A lot of the far left,” said Kerr, has been “living in a fantasy land.” That view of state politics “just wasn’t reflected in what voters wanted and wasn’t reflected in the elections outside of JP and a couple other places,” he said, referring to Boston’s super liberal Jamaica Plain neighborhood. 

One big reason for that, Gross pointed out, is that 60 percent of voters now aren’t registered under either party banner, and these so-called “unenrolled” voters can vote in either party primary. “I think that you see that play out on the campaign trail,” she said. “You see it play out in the rhetoric that the candidates use, or at least the candidates that were successful on Tuesday night. They were able to play closer to the middle and kind of try to bring this independent brand of bipartisanship that Massachusetts voters go toward historically.” 

Another big takeaway, said Gross, is “how potentially history-making these races will be.” If Healey and her running mate, Kim Driscoll, prevail in November, they will be the first female governor-lieutenant governor duo ever elected in the country, and Healey would be the first woman elected governor of Massachusetts and first lesbian elected governor of a state. Meanwhile, Democratic attorney general nominee Andrea Campbell, if successful in November, would be the first Black woman to ever hold statewide office in Massachusetts. 

Kerr said the Republican primary for governor, meanwhile, exposed “fantasyland thinking” on the right – that businessman Chris Doughty, who pegged himself as the only electable choice, would pull off a victory and there would be a “real governor’s race” in November. Instead, Trump-loyal former state rep Geoff Diehl won, and now faces particularly steep odds in the general election. 

More than 1 million voters turned out for the primary, despite the lack of a contested Democratic race for governor, but that voter interest was accompanied by a troubling lack of clear knowledge about the races and the candidates in them. A MassINC Polling Group survey in mid-August, commissioned by Kerr’s organization, showed that nearly half of likely Democratic voters had never heard of Campbell, and more than half had never heard of Driscoll or Diana DiZoglio, who won the primary for state auditor. 

“That is a flashing red light for democracy in our state,” said Kerr, who added that we have to figure out better ways to connect voters with information on candidates, including the good quality journalism that he said is being done. 

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

Gross said she was struck by people arriving to cast ballots during early voting who were looking things up on their phones, still unsure about many of the races. 

“I talked to one woman who left every single race blank except for her local leaders in Quincy,” Gross said. “She did not vote for any statewide [offices]. So I think that there is some work to be done in just civic education about not only who these people are, but what they do in some of these races, particularly positions like the lieutenant governor or the auditor, where voters just don’t really understand, practically, what their role is.”