Despite massive fundraising disadvantages and a late primary compared to other states, Democrats Jay Gonzalez and Bob Massie "could mount an effective contest" this year against Gov. Charlie Baker, if they can find a way to engage voters, according to former Gov. Michael Dukakis.
During a televised interview with Jon Keller of WBZ-TV, Dukakis said it had taken him two hours by car to get from Salem to the TV studio in Brighton.
"This transportation situation is terrible. I don't see the Baker administration doing much about it," said Dukakis, a three-term governor and the 1998 Democratic presidential nominee.
Baker has consistently earned high marks in public opinion polls, touting his work to address opioid addiction and improve MBTA service, but Dukakis sees the state's transportation problems as a vulnerability for the governor.
"We need a first class transportation system that can really make it possible for people to move around this place and do things, and invest in places, and live in places," he said. "We don't have it."
Dukakis won his first term as governor by knocking off Republican Gov. Francis Sargent in 1974. Four years later, Democrat Ed King beat Dukakis in the primary and went on to win the Corner Office. Dukakis came back, serving back-to-back four-year terms as governor in the 1980s.
Noting he was "like brothers" with Setti Warren's father, Dukakis had endorsed the former Newton mayor before Warren dropped out of the race for governor in late April, citing fundraising difficulties.
"I also really thought that at least in some ways he probably had the best shot at taking on Charlie Baker of the three," Dukakis said. "Well, for whatever reason, he's no longer in the field and Bob and Jay are very good people - the question is can they really engage in this race?"
Gonzalez and Massie could overcome their fundraising disadvantages by assembling an "active, aggressive, effective" campaign and taking advantage of "free media" and the use of social media, he said. "I think either one of them could mount an effective contest," Dukakis said.
But while other states rally behind major party candidates after primary contests in May or June, the Massachusetts primary is again in September this year.
"It's a late primary. That's the problem," Dukakis said, describing the challenge of gathering momentum in the two months between the Sept. 4 primary and the Nov. 6 election as "very tough."
Gonzalez and Massie have so far largely targeted Baker in their campaigns, but both need to earn ballot status during the June 1-2 party convention at the DCU Center in Worcester and then they're scheduled to go head to head during June, July and August before the day-after-Labor-Day primary election.
On the political front, Baker appears to be coasting on his favorable poll ratings, pursuing a second term without actively campaigning or outlining plans for 2019-2022. The governor has also downplayed his status as a Republican, often instead touting his bipartisan efforts and his focus on governing.
"Charlie's a nice guy. I just don't think he has that sense of urgency that I'd like to see in a governor," Dukakis said.
But Baker may have something going for him that has nothing to do with him. Massachusetts voters have consistently put Democrats firmly in control of the state Legislature, and in connection with that choice have elected Republican governors like William Weld, Paul Cellucci, Mitt Romney, and Baker.
"We have overwhelmingly Democratic Legislatures. And most Republican candidates run saying, "Hey, you don't want these guys to control everything.' And it's an effective argument to some extent," Dukakis said. "Not only that, notwithstanding our so-called Democratic inclinations, this is a pretty independent state. Always has been. Always has been. Notorious split ticketers. And in a way that's a strength of the party. If you want the Democratic nomination you better be somebody who has a reputation of being pretty independent within the Democratic Party."
On the national political front, Dukakis said the "cockamamie tax bill," as he described the new federal tax cut law, means economic inequality will worsen and there will be annual federal deficits. "We should have a surplus. I mean, this is very serious stuff," Dukakis said.
Dukakis also said the country's level of military spending is pulling money away from other priorities.
"Spending $700 billion on a foreign policy that doesn't know what it's doing - and I'm not focusing just on Trump - this notion that we're going to be at war perpetually is one that both parties seem to have bought into and I think it's frightening," he said. "But it's costing us $700 billion a year. For that war in Iraq we've spent $3 trillion and we're still spending and if we keep doing this there's not going to be much money around to devote to important domestic needs."