Baker, Polito cinch second term at Statehouse

Massachusetts Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jay Gonzalez, left, and Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, right, in Boston. Gonzalez is challenging Baker in the November general election. 

BOSTON -- Gov. Charlie Baker cruised into a second term in Tuesday's elections, defeating an underfunded Democratic challenger and overcoming discontent from his own party’s conservative wing.

Baker and his running mate Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, a Shrewsbury Republican, had more than 60 percent of the vote against Democratic challengers Jay Gonzalez and Quentin Palfrey, when The Associated Press called the race at 8:05 p.m.

Hundreds of Baker supporters were gathered in a palatial ballroom at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston watching the election results on a giant TV screen and awaiting the governor's arrival.

Turnout in Tuesday's midterm elections was expected to be heavy, with officials estimating more than half of the state's 4.5 million registered voters would cast ballots before 8 p.m, when polls closed. The exact turnout won't be known for days.

On Cape Ann, only Gloucester and Rockport's Precinct 1 had reported unofficial results at press time. In Gloucester, with all 10 precincts reporting, Baker and Polito won 9,494 votes to Gonzalez and Palfrey's 3,938. Baker and Polito won 695 votes to Gonzalez and Palfrey's 341 in Rockport.

Voters had had already cast more than 580,000 ballots ahead of time, taking advantage of the state's early voting period. Another 124,000 absentee ballots were requested before the election, officials said.

Baker, a moderate Republican first elected four years ago, ran an upbeat, well-funded re-election campaign that focused on his accomplishments in the governor's corner office, from creating jobs and eliminating a state budget deficit to increasing state funding for public education and public transit, while making progress in tackling the deadly opioid addiction crisis — all without raising taxes.

The former health care executive also worked to appeal to independents and moderate Democrats who are key to winning a statewide race in deep-blue Massachusetts. Among registered voters, Democrats have a 3-1 advantage over Republicans.

Baker even campaigned with Democratic officials, including Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera and Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday who -- much to the chagrin of Democratic Party officials -- praised his bipartisan approach.

"He solves problems and gets stuff done, that's why I support him," said Rivera, who joined other Baker supporters Tuesday night's festivities. "It's really not about about political parties, it's about leadership."

Meanwhile, Baker faced backlash from conservatives within his own party upset over his liberal views on abortion, gun control and immigration. They urged GOP voters to "blank Baker" by leaving the governor’s race box empty on their ballots.

Gonzalez, who trailed throughout the race in polling and was heavily outspent, has faced an uphill battle to unseat the popular incumbent since winning the Democratic Party's nomination in the Sept. 4 primary.

A top budget official under Baker's predecessor, former Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick, Gonzalez portrayed himself as a reformer by pledging to make big-ticket investments in the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's beleaguered transit system, require universal pre-kindergarten and move the state toward a single-payer health care system.

He argued that Baker hasn't devoted enough money or resources to dealing with those issues.

But Gonzalez’s plan to pay for those initiatives by taxing the state's wealthiest residents and dipping into the endowments of private colleges and universities was widely panned, even by members of his own party.

Gonzalez also argued that Baker hasn't been forceful enough in pushing back against Republican President Donald Trump's divisive policies and rhetoric, and he blasted Baker’s support for Republican state Rep. Geoff Diehl, a Trump surrogate, in the U.S. Senate race.

"This is not exactly the result we were hoping for, but we gave it one hell of a run," Gonzalez told supporters Tuesday night, conceding the race and congratulating Baker on his win.

While Republicans held onto the governorship, their success was unlikely to be replicated in other statewide races. A slate of Democratic incumbents was expected to handily fend off GOP and third-party challengers.

Secretary of State Bill Galvin, a Brighton Democrat, was expected to easily win reelection against Swampscott Republican Anthony Amore and Green-Rainbow candidate Juan Sanchez, to win a seventh term.

Galvin, who oversaw Tuesday's elections, is one of Beacon Hill's longest serving elected officials. He’s faced criticism from his challengers that he blurs lines between politics and his duties as secretary of state, such as using a taxpayer-funded "voter guide" to boast of his efforts to crack down on securities fraud or enlisting government employees to drop off signature petitions for his re-election bid at local clerk's offices.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Maura Healey was poised for reelection against Republican Jay McMahon, who had criticized her for a filing a litany of lawsuits against the Trump administration, National Rifle Association and other Second Amendment advocates.

Healey, a Charlestown Democrat, is the nation’s first openly gay attorney general. She was elected in 2014 to replace Martha Coakley, who stepped down to challenge Baker for governor that year.

McMahon, a Bourne attorney, has described himself as a "staunch defender" of gun rights who would rescind Healey’s decision to prosecute firearm sellers and manufacturers that sidestep the state’s ban on assault weapons.

Auditor Suzanne Bump, a Democrat, was expected to edge out three challengers to win a second four-year term. She faced Republican Helen Brady, Daniel Fishman, a Libertarian, and Ed Stamas, a Green-Rainbow candidate.

Bump has been criticized for some of her recent audits of the Baker administration, some of which her challengers have argued were politically motivated.

She’s denied the claims, arguing the reviews were part of the job.

Democratic Treasurer Deb Goldberg also appeared ready to turn back a challenge. Hers was from state Rep. Keiko Orrall, a Republican, and Jamie Guerin, who ran on the Green-Rainbow ticket.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@cnhi.com.

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