Is the 2014 Gubernatorial Contest a Bellwether for 2016?

Candidate for Governor Charlie Baker
Candidate for Governor Charlie Baker

By: David “D.J.” Beauregard – October, 2014

At first glance, most political observers would neglect to see any similarities between this year’s race for Governor of Massachusetts and the upcoming Presidential campaign in 2016. When one digs a little deeper into the details, it becomes clear that the race unfolding in our backyard is going to be an important 2016 bellwether. Before examining this year’s Bay State gubernatorial contest, let’s look back at the election that occurred in 2010 and its implications for the 2012 presidential election.

Four years ago, Charlie Baker was challenging Gov. Deval Patrick for re-election. He made the case that, as a successful executive with a great deal of experience turning things around, he had what it takes to beat Patrick and put Massachusetts back on the right track. Patrick, on the other hand, faced some pretty significant challenges during his first term. While he was always favored to win the race, there were moments when observers had their doubts. Patrick’s campaign was able to turn out voters in Democratic bastions like Lynn, Fall River, Lawrence, Boston, and New Bedford to score a decent six-point victory over Baker.

In the presidential election two years later, the dynamics of the campaign were strikingly similar. Mitt Romney ran as the successful executive with a great deal of experience turning things around while President Barack Obama ran for re-election as the popular incumbent who struggled throughout his first term. The president’s team was able to turn out their base in key states like Ohio, Virginia, Florida, and Colorado to win re-election with over 300 electoral votes. Obama’s campaign certainly worried about their candidate’s chances at times, but the president was always generally the favorite in 2012. As it turned out, the race for Governor of Massachusetts in 2010 served as an accurate bellwether for the presidential contest in 2012.
This year, history seems to be repeating itself. However, the characters are slightly different. Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate for governor, has a great deal of political baggage from her failed United States Senate bid in 2010 and controversial decisions that have been made during her tenure as Attorney General. Coakley launched her campaign months ago and enjoyed a large advantage over her Democratic rivals in nearly every poll leading up to the September primary. She faced a Democratic Party heavyweight in State Treasurer Steve Grossman and a strong challenge from the progressive wing of the party in Donald Berwick.

Although she led in every poll by huge margins, she won the gubernatorial nomination by a weak six-point margin over Grossman. Charlie Baker, on the other hand, is once again running as the accomplished executive who is ready and able to fix the messes made by Gov. Patrick and the Democratic establishment on Beacon Hill. Coakley is running to be the Commonwealth’s first female governor and is attempting to make it clear that her election would not simply be a third Patrick term.

The similarities between Martha Coakley and Hillary Clinton could not be more striking. Clinton, the likely Democratic candidate, is sure to face a similar challenge in the Democratic primary. She also has her own fair share of political baggage. Although Clinton currently maintains large leads over Democratic establishment figures like Vice President Joe Biden and influential progressives like Elizabeth Warren, will she be able to defeat her Democratic opponents and the Republican Party’s nominee in 2016, or will she follow in Martha Coakley’s steps and underwhelm the pollsters and pundits once people actually vote? It certainly remains to be seen.

Baker has been able to take the lead in his race against Coakley in recent polls and he has demonstrated that he has a strategy to decrease the ever-widening gender gap. If Baker is able to defeat Coakley in November, any Republican presidential candidate in the next election would be wise to look at yet another Massachusetts bellwether as he (or she) plots a winning strategy against Hillary Clinton.
David “D.J.” Beauregard operates his own political blog, He can be reached via e-mail at