Baker, Polito to run as GOP team


Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker on Tuesday tethered his hopes to take back the Corner Office to a former state representative from Shrewsbury, joining Karyn Polito at a diner in her hometown to declare a GOP ticket for the 2014 election.

Polito, who lost a race for treasurer in 2010, brings the experience of that statewide bid to the Baker campaign as his running mate for lieutenant governor. The two candidates, both looking for redemption at the ballot box next year, said that over many discussions since the late summer they found that their priorities were closely aligned.

“Karen is a mom first above all else, just like I’m a dad, and that’s where our politics come from,” Baker said, introducing Polito to an enthusiastic audience packed into the tight confines of Brody’s Diner.

Polito on Monday scheduled the 10:15 a.m. press conference Tuesday in her hometown to announce her plans for 2014. At 8 a.m. Tuesday, Baker’s team revealed that the gubernatorial candidate would join Polito in Shrewsbury.

In Polito, the Baker campaign believes it has found someone who not only believes in Baker’s retooled message for the 2014 campaign, but who brings a record of prolific fundraising and a geographic base in central Massachusetts that could prove helpful.

Though there had been an internal debate within the campaign about whether Baker should choose a running mate or let the delegates select a nominee for lieutenant governor at the GOP convention next summer, Baker made the decision to go with Polito just before Thanksgiving, he said.

Republican Reps. Ryan Fattman of Sutton, Matthew Beaton of Shrewsbury, Paul Frost of Auburn, and Kevin Kuros of Uxbridge, along with Republican Governor’s Councilor Jennie Caissie of Oxford and Worcester County Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis, a Polito ally when he served in the Legislature, were on hand for the announcement. So was Baker’s campaign chairman, David Forsberg.

Baker described himself, Forsberg, and Polito as “disciples of Paul Cellucci,” the late Republican governor whose name was raised several times during remarks at the diner. Cellucci and former Gov. Mitt Romney won gubernatorial races as Republicans with female running mates – Jane Swift and Kerry Healey – but advisers downplayed gender as a reason for selecting Polito. Nevertheless, when asked how Baker could close the gender gap that contributed to his loss to Gov. Deval Patrick in 2010, Polito said, “I think he’s doing a good job today.”

Three years ago, Baker ran against the incumbent Patrick with Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei as his running mate, an openly gay veteran legislator and realtor from Wakefield less than 10 miles from Baker’s home in Swampscott. This time around he has partnered another seasoned politician, but one from central Massachusetts who, like him, can draw from the experience of losing in 2010.

“If you’re going to run, you need someone out of central Mass if you want to win. I think that was the mistake they made the last time,” said Rolly Carlson, a friend and former Polito campaign worker from Worcester who came to the diner to support her bid.

Baker highlighted Polito’s experience in local politics as a member of the Shrewsbury Board of Selectmen, where she served after she graduated law school, and her commitment to public safety and quality education for young people, two of the three planks of his early campaign.

“Karyn Polito is one of those people who knows how to get stuff done,” Baker said.

Democrats moved quickly to paint the selection of Polito as an attempt to pander to the right-wing of the Republican Party, specifically noting her one-time support for a ban on gay marriage and an award she received in August from Tea Party Republican Congressman Allen West.

“In spite of what he’s saying, he is the same Charlie Baker who ran in 2010,” said Massachusetts Democratic Party Chair Tom McGee. “Charlie is crisscrossing the Commonwealth trying to reshape his image but privately he is trying to appease the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party.”

Polito balked at the Democrats’ characterization of her as an extremist Republican, describing herself as a “fiscal conservative” who believes in smaller government, lower taxes, and less regulation.

“That’s a label I ask you to assign to me,” she said.

Baker also chaffed at the suggestion that he had chosen to team with Polito to appeal to a specific portion of the electorate.

“I’m chasing every vote in Massachusetts. I really believe that every voter in Massachusetts, I don’t care what party they’re from, where they live, or how they live, wants to have a Massachusetts where if somebody wants to work they can; where somebody wants a job where they have the ability to believe they have a future, they’ve got it; where they don’t believe that their future is going to be built on sand instead of on some sort of a platform,” Baker said. “Same goes with schools. Same goes with communities. I don’t think that’s a Republican or a Democrat or conservative or a liberal or a man or a woman thing. I think those are issues that are important to everyone.”

Polito served five terms in the House before vacating her seat in 2010 to run for treasurer. Following her defeat to Treasurer Steven Grossman in which she earned more votes than any other Republican on the ballot, including Baker, Polito criticized her party for not being supportive enough with funds. Polito raised over $1 million in 2010 to support her campaign for treasurer, and earned over 1 million votes despite being outspent by Grossman.

Reflecting on lessons learned from the 2010 campaign, Polito said the Massachusetts Republican Party and its candidates need to do a better job of coordinating their efforts and supporting one another. In that vein, Baker’s political team plans to orchestrate day-to-day management of Polito’s run for lieutenant governor over the next 11 months, saving money for both candidates.

During her time in the Legislature, Polito carved out a reputation for being fiscally conservative. Polito occasionally butted heads with members of her caucus and in 2009 was part of a group that came up just short in their bid to have former Rep. Evangelidis take over for House Minority Leader Brad Jones. .

Polito also came to be closely associated with Jessica’s Law, a bill she sponsored imposing stiff mandatory minimum sentences for child sexual assault crimes. On this issue, Polito clashed with Attorney General Martha Coakley, who is running for governor and opposed the law because she felt it would restrict judicial discretion in sentencing and tie the hands of prosecutors to seek plea deals.

Stephen Kerrigan, one of two Democrats running for lieutenant governor next year, quickly went on the offensive against Polito and Baker Tuesday after the announcement.

“It’s official: The Charlie Baker campaign makeover has come to a screeching halt. In choosing Karyn Polito as his running mate, Charlie Baker is showing his true colors by aligning himself with an avid backer of the Tea Party movement whose views are well outside our Commonwealth’s mainstream. Massachusetts Republicans are as determined as ever to halt progress by returning to the failed policies of Mitt Romney and the extreme views of the Tea Party,” Kerrigan said.

Despite her reputation and appeal to the more conservative elements of her party, Polito’s record hasn’t always hewed to the far right. She opposed gay marriage, while supporting civil unions for same-sex couples, and had a near-perfect voting record with pro-choice groups.

“This attempt to say she’s a right-winger is really not accurate,” said one Baker advisor.

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Matt Murphy

State House News Service
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During her 10 years in the Legislature, Polito also cast votes to override Romney’s veto of stem cell research legislation, to provide access to emergency contraception for rape victims, to increase the minimum wage in 2006 to $8 an hour, and for a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics.

“I’m an optimist and I believe the best days are ahead for our Commonwealth,” Polito told her supporters, before leaving the diner with Baker.