Ready to rumble

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  January 13, 2010

Baker's supporters say that he has done the right thing by concentrating on fundraising, rather than trying to raise his public profile in the midst of the Senate race. But some critics, including Republicans, argue that Baker has missed chances to make a mark in the race. For example, he failed to speak up as a voice of opposition during recent debates on Beacon Hill over budget cuts and education reform.

Baker, who has never campaigned for anything other than a local selectman race, still has to prove that he can win over voters. As Healey demonstrated, if you can't do that, all the money in the world doesn't matter.

Room to the right
Some insiders also say that Baker missed an opportunity to protect his flank by burying fellow challengers Christy Mihos, the other Republican candidate, and State Treasurer Tim Cahill, who is running as an independent.

Both have been similarly quiet in recent months, but have shown little of Baker's fundraising prowess — Cahill raised just more than $100,000 in December, a third of Tisei's take, let alone Baker's. And neither Mihos nor Cahill have improved their poll numbers — in fact, since July, Cahill's have gotten worse.

But neither of them seems daunted or inclined to drop out of the race. That's a problem for Baker, because both are expected to start banging away at him from the right.

For Mihos, that means appealing to both the populist and social-conservative portions of the Republican electorate, which he believes outnumber the traditional establishment Yankee Republicans that Baker — and his donors — represents.

Political observers agree that Mihos has a natural advantage with the populist conservatives, who have become active through the Tea Party movement, Glenn Beck's 9.12 Project, and Ron Paul's 2008 presidential campaign. Those observers question whether rabble-rousers will vote in large numbers in a Republican gubernatorial primary, but Mihos thinks they will. "Look at some of the citizen patriot groups — that's the makings of the new Republican Party," says Mihos. "The anger about what is happening to jobs, taxes, and health care is real. You can feel it."

Mihos is playing to that crowd with talk of shrinking state government, support for a tax-rollback initiative, and a vow to ask everyone he hires for his administration to forgo the state pension.

And though he is considered moderate on social issues, Mihos argues that he is more conservative than Baker. He is pro-choice, but opposes any public funding for abortions and favors parental-notification mandates. While he supports Massachusetts's same-sex marriage law, he denounces the state legislature for preventing the issue from going to a popular vote.

One of the first tests will come as Baker and Mihos vie for the Republican workers and volunteers who have been energized by Scott Brown's Senate campaign. (Both Mihos and Baker have been helping Brown, hoping to bank some goodwill.) The conventional wisdom is that Brown's supporters are primarily party faithful, who will tend toward Baker. Mihos hopes that they are populists and conservatives battling the status quo which he believes include Baker.

Cuckoo for Loscocco?
Some may expect Cahill, a former Democrat, to steer between Patrick and Baker ideologically in his independent bid. But his selection of former Republican state representative Paul Loscocco actually seems to signal a move to the right.

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