Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Charlie Baker needs to get the needle pointed the right way, not the extreme right way.
by Kevin Sowyrda, political commentator
Gossip in Bean Town, more critical to survival than franks at Fenway, is telling us that newly born gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker is about to ink a deal with G.O.P. hit man and Lee Atwater wanna-be Rob Gray to run his campaign for the corner office. If "you know them by the company they keep" is applicable here, Baker's about to alienate more than a phalanx of party activists - and Democrats - who remember Gray for political tactics that don't seem in sync with Baker's reputation as a moderate Republican, high on ethics and committed to a think tank governing style.

Sure, it's inside baseball. The average voter isn't going to que on election day to vote for or against a candidate because their campaign chieftain is Gray, Rubin, Morris, or whoever. But in a town where the primary sports are Red Sox Baseball and Beacon Hill Intrigue, this story is juicy, and will only get better.

Watching Gray in action at the state house was always like Francis Ford Coppola's, 'The Godfather.' I don't know of any bleeding horse heads deposited into the beds of Gray's enemies (of which there are too many to enumerate), but all the broken toes still healing from Rob's political stampedes would, alone, be enough to Bring Baker's HMO company to its knees.

Sure, he says he was offered a high ranking position in the White House after toiling for George Bush and Dick Cheney on the campaign trails of New England; though a number of G.O.P. operatives tell me that his claim was dubious -a spin effort worthy of Gray who counts as his clients the Toiletry Foundation of America......really.

So how and why the Rockefeller-like Republican Charlie Baker goes to bed with a G.O.P. right winger is a hard question to answer, especially given Gray's penchant for rewarding his mentors in a less than conventional manner. After pocketing plenty of easy cash from no heavy lifting contracts via Mitt Romney's graces, Mr. Gray, famous for his trade mark jeans and penny loafers minus socks, showed his gratitude by joining John McCain's presidential operation. Et,tu Brute?

Finding Republicans willing to share their distaste for Gray was as easy as finding a new reality show on TV. But trying to get one to go on the record was not a realistic expectation. For a disheveled little man, Gray intimidates a fair number of political operatives who don't care to incur his wrath but are nonetheless loaded with anecdotal information as to why Gray is the best thing to ever happen to the Massachusetts Democratic Party.

"He's the reason Kerry Healy lost", said a former high ranking Weld Administration official who asked not to be named because......well maybe she doesn't like horse heads in bed. Gray managed Lt. Governor Healy's gubernatorial bid in 2006, which went down in flames; especially after her media war created more controversy than votes. Gray's so called "parking garage ad" warning citizens about the dangers of being raped was lambasted by critics for racist undertones. "I think it was extremely negative and I think the parking ad was so over the top. It was racial. It was scare tactics that if you don't elect her then everybody else will be week on law enforcement," said the former Weld Administration insider who worked in the corner office.

So is it all a harbinger of the type of campaign Charlie Baker will run - one of those Willie Horton specials that has us rolling in the gutter; or atleast rolling our eyes? If Gray is in total control, yes. Gutter politics is where Gray's needle is pointing to. But should Baker actually be in this to win, he needs a broader path. "Charlie's success would be found in people viewing him and his campaign as a moderate operation," media consultant and '06 Kerry-Healey supporter Jan Saragoni told me on Tuesday morning.

In any event, Baker's facing a Pork Chop Hill of a campaign. Despite the fawning coverage his drinking buddies still toss his way from the city's broadsheet, Baker is hardly the eight hundred pound guerilla he's portrayed as. While it's fun for the G.O.P. establishment to make fun of businessman Christy Mihos as a pushover in waiting, I'll put my money on Christy any day of the week. Don't put it beyond Mihos to give Baker a shellacking. Mihos is independently wealthy and ran for governor in 2006, while Baker's campaign experience does not extend beyond his riveting race for Swampscott selectman.

Come the general election, Governor Patrick could become the man to beat, with an Independent Tim Cahill siphoning off votes from the Republican nominee. Then again, the governor still has a lot of damage repair ahead of him after squandering so much political capital on cynical patronage ventures; and my sources say that Mihos is taking solid advice from campaign guru Dick Morris and is in this thing to win, having learned from his mistakes in '06.

For my money, Baker's the candidate of the Boston Globe and the Republican Party preaturians. This crowd makes a roar now and then - and they're great to meet for chocolate martinis at the Hampshire House - but they rarely pull off touch downs in the final quarter.

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