‘Playing chicken’ Massachusetts governor’s race on hold as Maura Healey, Charlie Baker sit on their hands

The ongoing indecision of Gov. Charlie Baker and Attorney General Maura Healey, both undeclared favorites in the race for governor, has fundraising on hold and supporters sidelined as they wonder who squawks first in the political game of chicken.

“It’s not Baker playing chicken with her, but she seems to be waiting see what he will do before she does anything,” said Daniel Mulcare, chairman of Salem State University’s political science department.

The Democratic attorney general told the Herald on Nov. 6 that she is still “seriously” considering a run for governor next year, promising a decision “soon.” She had previously told reporters that decision would come “by the fall” — a self-imposed deadline that’s quickly slipping away.

Baker, too, has had a loose relationship with the definition of the word “soon.” He started using the word in response to reporters’ questions about a third term on July 7.

Earlier this month the popular Republican governor deflected questions about his reelection plans saying, he didn’t “understand why you’re in such a big hurry for me to make a decision about this.”

On Monday, he appeared incredulous when a Herald reporter again posed the question.

“I can’t believe you’re asking me that question. Really?,” Baker said during a holiday shopping season kickoff event in Needham. “I’ve spoken to that issue.”

The 65-year-old Baker has has described his decision as a “very complicated” one. Sources close to the governor say he is genuinely soul searching as weighs the challenges of governing amid the pandemic and the toll of campaigning on the GOP ticket as the state Republican Party frays over its identity.

“Baker is going to get beat up in Republican primary,” Mulcare said. “What’s his place in a party that has gotten so far-Trump? Many of the people that voted in that won’t in the general if Baker wins because they’ll be thinking ‘Why would I vote when it’s between a RINO and a radical leftist?’”

One recent poll puts Baker behind Republican candidate and former Whitman state Rep. Geoff Diehl, an avowed Trump supporter.

But Baker is keeping up appearances. After pushing the pause button on fundraising for more than a year amid the pandemic, Baker resumed fundraising this summer and has held a handful of events since.

But even as reporters and voters are left champing at the bit, pundits say Baker’s campaign is unlikely to suffer from a late decision. Even if individual donations take a hit, the Republican Governor’s Association is more than likely to bankroll the wildly popular incumbent once again.

The group funneled at least $9.4 million directly into pro-Baker administration political action committees ahead of the 2014 election fueling a narrow win over former Attorney General Martha Coakley, according to a review of state campaign finance records. The RGA donated $6.57 million for his 2018 reelection bid against Jay Gonzalez.

But Democrats hopes for regaining the seat of power become dimmer the longer the candidate field lingers with no clear front runner, Mulcare said.

“This is putting them at a disadvantage. We’re at the end stage of it being early and the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is not the best time to campaign,” Mulcare said. “We’re moving into January and if Healey doesn’t get in then, it gets really hard to not only raise funds but hire the staff that you need.”

Healey has flat-out denied her candidacy hinges on Baker’s decision, saying she is weighing “personal decisions and considerations.”

But there’s no denying donors have remained tight-fisted as the candidate fields on both sides remain incomplete.

Baker has raised just under $491,000 so far this year. At this point in the year leading up to his last reelection, his campaign had raked in over $3.6 million in donations. Hauls from other candidates are comparatively small with the general election now less than a year out. The three major declared Democratic candidates have cumulatively about $1.7 million so far this year.

Baker spent $11 million in his successful 2018 re-election campaign. His Democratic challenger, Jay Gonzalez, spent about $2.2 million on the race.

Those tallies dwarfed in comparison to 2014 when there was an open race for governor and the six candidates spent a combined $42.3 million.

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