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The race for governor has taken on yet another dimension. Harvard Pilgrim Health Care CEO Charlie Baker has announced he is stepping down to run for the corner office. Baker joins convenience store magnate Christy Mihos in the race for the 2010 Republican nomination.
Baker entered the race on the same day that state Treasurer Tim Cahill left the Democratic Party, setting up a possible run for governor as an independent. Baker was asked if it might be a problem to have two fiscal conservatives split the vote in a three-way race against Gov. Deval Patrick. He predicted that the race might not be about taxes at all.
"For me, it ought to be about jobs and the economy and the business climate," Baker said at a hastily arranged press conference at Babson College, "because a state that can't grow jobs — can't keep its young people — is in deep, deep, serious, long-term trouble, and that's what I see when I look at Massachusetts right now."
Baker said he will be running as a socially liberal Republican, like his old boss, former Gov. Bill Weld. He served as Weld's secretary of Health and Human Services and then as secretary of Administration and Finance. He left government to run Harvard Pilgrim, the state's second-largest health insurance company, after Blue Cross Blue Shield. He brought Harvard Pilgrim back from insolvency to financial health and high praise from its clients.
Baker said now is the perfect time to jump into the governor's office. "The opportunity to do the most kind of reform activity is usually in a down market and a down economy," he said. "We have a big choice to make over the course of the next few years. Are we going to get really serious about reform? Get really serious about job creation? Get really serious about living within our means? Or not? And my view is we should choose reform, and I'm really worried that we won't."
Baker was asked if his decision to announce his candidacy now had anything to do with Treasurer Tim Cahill's decision this week to leave the Democratic Party.
"No, I told the staff at Harvard Pilgrim in February that I was going to make a decision in early July," Baker said. "The reason I picked early July is July is a big month in our industry — about 35 to 40 percent is up in July — and I wanted to get all the way through that and process it clean before I made any decisions about this. So the treasurer's decision didn't affect me."
House Republican leader Brad Jones said he's thrilled to have Baker in the race. "He is the breath of fresh air that this State House needs," Jones said. "He's the breath of fresh air that Deval Patrick said he would be and hasn't been. "
Baker also received praise from a prominent State House Democrat, Senate President Therese Murray. She has called Patrick "irrelevant," but said in a statement that she has "a great deal of respect" for Baker.
Before running against Gov. Patrick, Baker will have to defeat Cape Cod businessman Christy Mihos, who says they really appeal to two very different kinds of Republicans.
"Certainly, I am not an institutional or an insider Republican. That is not going to be debatable at all," Mihos said in a telephone interview. "I am a populist type of Republican, and I think that I speak for the people that have to pay the taxes."
In 2006, Mihos angered many Republicans when he left to run for governor as an independent candidate. Recently, he has been trying to mend fences with the party. He recently wrote a $10,000 check to balance the books of the state party committee.
Republican analyst Gene Hartigan said how well Baker does will depend on how well Cahill does at pulling disillusioned lunch-bucket Democrats — such as fire, police and teachers' unions — away from Gov. Patrick.
"Independents play a large role, but they tend to be fiscal conservatives," Hartigan said. "They're going to be looking at these candidates saying, 'Who serves my pocketbook best?' "
Hartigan said if Cahill is successful, that will make the race a hard one for the Republican challenging the governor.
This program aired on July 9, 2009.
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