After chiding a female reporter as "sweetheart," Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker is facing accusations from his political opponents that a pattern has developed of him being dismissive toward women and issues important to them.
Baker has made efforts to appeal to women, featuring his daughter and wife in campaign videos and commercials, and pointing to his running mate, Karyn Polito, as an example of his commitment to women at a recent fundraiser in the South End.
But female Democratic party leaders on Wednesday decried Baker for what they said is a pattern of dismissiveness toward issues of concern to women, topped by his calling a female Fox 25 reporter "sweetheart" Tuesday.
Baker, after a forum at Faneuil Hall Wednesday, addressed the issue directly before taking questions from the assembled media, apologizing for his choice of words.
"I did call Sharman [Sacchetti] last night, apologized and she was gracious enough to accept my apology. My comment was a mistake and certainly doesn't represent my work, attitudes or what I'm all about," Baker said.
Asked if he used the term regularly, Baker said, "Usually with my wife, primarily, yeah."
While Democrat Martha Coakley largely demurred on the subject, independent candidate Evan Falchuk said he agreed with the criticism, and independent candidate Jeff McCormick said, "There does seem to be a pattern."
Democrats cited Baker's initial reluctance to call on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to resign, and his initial comments on the U.S. Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision, which allowed certain companies to curtail reproductive health care coverage. Baker's response to a question about his ad campaign from Fox 25 political reporter Sharman Sacchetti amounted to a "pattern," women said in a conference call sponsored by the Democratic Party.
"He is pandering to women's issues and his actions speak louder than words. Women can see through the charade," said Barbara Lee, who founded an eponymous organization to encourage women to run for office. "We see this pattern of him dismissing the issues that are so important to women."
On Tuesday, when Sacchetti asked Baker about a Democratic claim that his ads would take on a more negative tone after a switch in ad agencies, he said, "OK, this is going to be the last one, sweetheart."
"This is going to be the last one. Sweetheart?" Sacchetti responded. Baker said, "I'm kidding."
Baker said he disagreed with the characterization of his comment as a pattern of disregard for women and issues important to them. He cited the fact that seven of the 12 members on the board at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care when he was CEO were women, as were the majority of his executive team and his most trusted professional advisers.
"I'm actually quite proud of my track record and my relationships with the women I've worked with over the years," Baker said.
The latest WBUR tracking poll of the governor's race shows Coakley has a lead of 24 points among women.
"He's in danger of the gender gap with Martha Coakley becoming a gender chasm," Todd Domke, WBUR's Republican political analyst, said about Baker's "sweetheart gaffe."
With reporting by State House News Service and the WBUR Newsroom