Baker is likely the truest avatar of liberal Republicanism still standing. His tenure as governor has seen a comprehensive plan to combat climate change developed alongside the announcement that the commonwealth would reach its 2020 emissions targets. He has enacted legislation to reduce gender pay gaps, pledged to make up federal funding cuts to Planned Parenthood with state money, said he supports the settlement of Syrian refugees in Massachusetts, and been vocal in his support for LGBT rights. And he’s one of a few in a cycle: Bill Weld, Paul Cellucci, and—more arguably—Mitt Romney all governed from either a centrist or moderate liberal position when they occupied the corner office on Beacon Hill. Baker’s approach is one of “constructive friction” with the Democratic supermajorities in the state legislature, Billy Pitman, his deputy campaign manager, says.
The strategy seems to be working. A poll for the public radio station WBUR in Boston found Baker leads his Democratic opponent, Jay Gonzalez, by 19 points—among Democrats. Gonzalez has never polled above 27 percent. In Vermont, even an internal poll for the state’s Democratic Party showed Scott winning by a comfortable margin. In New Hampshire, Governor Chris Sununu—a less moderate figure whose attempts to curtail the franchise for college students have met a negative reaction from many Democrats—faces less certain reelection, though he is also favored.
Maine is an outlier. Though both parties in the state have historically been known for their moderation, the state elected Paul LePage, a right-wing populist, in the 2010 Tea Party wave. Shawn Moody, the Republican nominee to succeed LePage, who is term-limited this year, is akin to the outgoing governor, though without his history of controversy and racism. Although the race between Moody and Attorney General Janet T. Mills is competitive, the Democrat is favored and Moody has never led in a publicly released poll.
Whether that indicates a repudiation of LePage’s record is less clear. In early October, the state’s senior senator, Susan Collins, was variously castigated and lauded for her vote to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Collins has often been viewed as a moderate, but she has lately seemed less willing to break with her Republican colleagues on key votes. “My sense of Senator Collins is that she’s never been a moderate—she just plays one on TV,” says Janann Sherman, an emeritus professor at the University of Memphis and biographer of Margaret Chase Smith, the Maine senator famed for her political independence. Collins may fear a primary challenge if she seeks a fifth term in 2020, driving her to the right.
Sherman argues that Collins attempts to cultivate an image as a successor to Smith, but has struck a vastly divergent course in practice. Smith was the first woman elected to the Senate in her own right after first following her husband, the progressive, pro-union Republican Clyde Smith, into a Skowhegan-based House seat. Her most famed moment in the legislature came in 1950, when she gave her “Declaration of Conscience” speech against fellow Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist crackdown in which she declared “fear, ignorance, bigotry, and smear” the “four horsemen of calumny.”