BOSTON — Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, a moderate seeking a second term in solidly Democratic Massachusetts, fended off a primary challenge Tuesday from conservative minister Scott Lively, a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump who questioned Baker’s commitment to the Republican platform.
Baker, who has distanced himself from Trump, will face the winner of the Democratic primary, Jay Gonzalez, in November. He defeated Robert Massie on Tuesday.
Polling has shown Baker to be highly popular with voters, including many Democrats, throughout his first term — support he credits in part to his willingness to work with Democratic legislative leaders at the Statehouse.
Baker has said he did not cast a vote in the 2016 presidential election because he didn’t believe Trump had the “temperament” to be president, nor was he a “fan” of Hillary Clinton. He has been a frequent critic of White House policy.
Lively, who has called Trump “God’s man in the White House,” frequently called Baker a RINO — a Republican in name only — but had little money or staff to mount a serious challenge to the well-financed incumbent.
Addressing supporters Tuesday night, Baker rattled off a list of what he said were the accomplishments of his administration over the past four years. He said Massachusetts added 180,000 new jobs, eliminated a state budget deficit, increased state funding for public education, and made progress in tackling the opioid addiction crisis, all without raising taxes.
“We believe that people in public life can, and should, debate the issues respectfully, and seek common ground whenever possible,” Baker said.
Gonzalez’s background is similar to that of Baker. Before entering politics, each served as state Secretary of Administration and Finance — Gonzalez under former Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick, and Baker under former Republican Gov. Paul Cellucci. And Gonzalez, like Baker, headed a health insurance company after leaving state government.
Gonzalez said Baker needs to do more than just be liked.
“I get it, it’s a relief to have a governor who seems nice and isn’t a crazy right-wing extremist,” Gonzalez told supporters. “With Donald Trump setting the bar so low, nice and not crazy seems pretty good. But it’s not good enough.”
The ongoing trouble with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority — better known as the “T” — was the top issue among voters he met during the campaign. It came under scrutiny during the crippling winter of 2015.
He has pledged if elected to fire Keolis, the private firm that currently operates the T’s commuter rail network, and end efforts to privatize other aspects of the transit system.
Baker says transit service has improved significantly during his term but acknowledges that more needs to be done.
Gonzalez’s bid for the nomination received a major boost in June when he was endorsed by delegates to the Democratic state convention.
Massie, a longtime political and environmental activist, won the endorsement of the Bernie Sanders-inspired Our Revolution group, but struggled to raise cash and was twice forced to take out personal loans to keep his campaign afloat.
Baker enters the general election campaign with a sizable financial edge, having raised more than $8 million for his re-election effort and reporting a campaign balance of $6.6 million through mid-August. Gonzalez reported a balance of $367,000.
Gonzalez will run in the fall with Quentin Palfrey, a onetime aide to former President Barack Obama who defeated Jimmy Tingle, a comedian, in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor.
Republican Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito ran unopposed.
By BOB SALSBERG , Associated Press