It’s that Massachusetts Democrats, above all else, are wary of Republican rule from the executive suite. They’re scarred by Donald Trump’s years in the White House and are facing the prospect of a Republican nominee for governor endorsed by the former president. They just want someone who can win.
“This is a natural extension of [Joe] Biden beating Trump,” veteran Boston-based Democratic consultant Mary Anne Marsh, who is not working for either candidate, said in an interview. “People don’t want Donald Trump, they don’t want Donald Trump acolytes or supporters in office. That’s why people are being very clear-eyed about who they support, who they endorse and who they think can win.”
Republicans have held the governor’s office in deep blue Massachusetts for most of the past 30 years, propelled to Beacon Hill time and time again by independents who make up 57 percent of the state’s voters and Democrats willing to cross party lines to vote for fiscally conservative, socially moderate executives.
Only one Democrat, Deval Patrick, has managed to break that streak. But the Democrats’ next standard-bearer, former state Attorney General Martha Coakley, fell short in 2014 against Republican Charlie Baker, now the most popular governor in America.
Baker’s decision not to seek a third term leaves Healey poised to become just the second Democrat to hold the Bay State’s highest office since 1991.
“Everyone feels like you’re going to take nothing for granted, even though it’s clear that the field shifted when Governor Baker declared he was not seeking re-election,” state Sen. Adam Hinds, who was knocked out of the Democratic lieutenant governor race at the convention, said in an interview.
“Everyone is absolutely keeping their heads down and making sure we’re running through the finish line to make sure we have a Democratic administration,” he added, “because they don’t come around that often.”
Massachusetts presents one of the best chances for Democrats to flip a governor’s seat this cycle in large part because of Healey’s strength as a candidate. With more than $2 million raised since her campaign launch and more than $5 million in the bank, Healey outpaces her rivals in either party by multitudes. She leads polls—of both primary and general election matchups—by double digits.
And while the attorney general has run and won statewide twice before, her likely Republican opponent, former state Rep. Geoff Diehl, lost his last statewide race against Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and is backed by Trump, who voters here resoundingly rejected twice.
Several of the state’s top Democratic politicians are coalescing around Healey long before the Sept. 6 primary. The state House speaker and Senate president endorsed Healey over Chang-Díaz. Assistant House Speaker Katherine Clark and Reps. Lori Trahan and Jake Auchincloss backed Healey in the run-up to the convention, as did state Treasurer Deb Goldberg. In another blow to Chang-Díaz in a primary between two progressives, several of the most prominent progressive voices in the state legislature have now sided with the attorney general.
“It is imperative that we nominate a progressive Democrat who will advance [progressive] issues, and who we know can be successful in November,” state Rep. Mike Connolly said in a letter to local convention delegates announcing his endorsement. “The candidate who meets both of these criteria is Maura Healey.”
Healey’s early dominance has created both an air of inevitability around her ascension to the governor’s office — and a desire to play it safe to make sure that happens.
“It reminds me of the 2020 presidential primary, of the Biden supporters,” Jonathan Cohn, a Democratic State Committee member and policy director for Progressive Massachusetts, who has endorsed Chang-Díaz, said in an interview. “You have a certain desire to settle if you’re the kind of party-loyal Democrat and you’re happy to have a Democratic governor for the first time in eight years.”
Even with major election forecasters predicting Massachusetts as a “Lean” or “Likely D” and with Democrats who already control the state Legislature likely to sweep every constitutional and federal office in the state this fall, Democratic activists and candidates up through Healey herself are sounding alarms about complacency.
Healey used a good portion of his convention speech to issue a dire warning about the possibility of Republican control in Massachusetts and beyond, arguing that the right would “take us backwards” on gun control, reproductive rights and racial justice.
“The other side is mobilizing. They’re fired up. They think this is their moment. They expect to claim governor’s offices across the country,” Healey said. “Not in Massachusetts.”
Delegates roaded their approval.
Healey, a political neophyte when she upset former state Sen. Warren Tolman in 2014 en route to winning her first attorney general race, soon burnished a national profile by suing everyone from Trump to Purdue Pharma.
Yet she’s been criticized by a vocal contingent of progressive activists for running a gubernatorial campaign light on policy specifics. While her recently revamped website lays out steps Healey would take in 11 key issue areas, she’s only officially rolled out one policy platform, a climate plan, compared to a slate of proposals from Chang-Díaz covering everything from education to transportation.
“Healey’s policies aren’t completely there,” delegate Mariam Ibrahimi, who voted for Chang-Díaz at the convention, said in an interview. “It reminds me of the classic Democratic Massachusetts voter: middle of the road and centrist.”
Chang-Díaz exceeded expectations at the Democrats’ confab by notching 29 percent support among the delegates — a combination of fervent supporters, party activists who wanted to reward Chang-Díaz’s decade-plus of pioneering service as the first Latina and Asian American elected to the state Senate, and people who just wanted to see a primary.
Yet the first-time statewide office-seeker faces an uphill battle against juggernaut Healey. And while her supporters acknowledge that she might not be what the party is looking for in its candidate this year, she’s what they think it needs.
“I am not the preferred candidate of the Beacon Hill establishment,” Chang-Díaz proudly declared in her convention speech. “There’s a reason for that: When you spend your career pushing for change, it can make those in power uncomfortable. Sometimes you pay a price for that. And friends, that’s a price I’m willing to pay.”
Some Democrats have also decried Healey’s approach — to “continue with what’s working, and fix what’s not” — as being too deferential to the Baker administration.
“If you’re looking for a governor to pass bolder legislation than Baker, [Chang-Díaz] is the one,” state Sen. Jamie Eldridge, an Acton Democrat who whipped votes for Chang-Díaz at the convention, said in an interview.
Yet others see Healey’s overtures to Baker voters, moderate Democrats and independents as a savvy strategy by a candidate who — just like Democrats and Republicans before her — will need all of those camps to get her across the finish line in November.
Healey supporters also bristle at her opponents’ claims that she’s too “establishment” or moderate in this race, casting her as a crusader who’s pushed for gun control and canceling student loan debt and lauding the fact that, if elected, she would be the nation’s first openly lesbian governor.
“In the past we would play it safe with an established, if uninspiring, candidate at the expense of a more exciting candidate,” Sen said. Julian Cyr, a Cape Cod Democrat and Healey supporter, said in an interview. “But with Healey, we sort of are able to have our cake and eat it, too.”