Charlie Baker defends his endorsement of Susan Collins

Gov. Charlie Baker may be extraordinarily popular among Democrats in reliably-blue Massachusetts. However, last week, the Republican governor did something that was roundly criticized by local members of the opposite party.

He endorsed Maine Sen. Susan Collins.

Recent polls show Collins — a fellow self-styled moderate Republican who has breezed to victory in all three of her previous reelection campaigns — in a tight race against Democratic challenger Sara Gideon, who is Maine’s House speaker. But she got some backup Friday from Baker in the form of a 15-second video, in which the Massachusetts governor vouched for the “pro-environment, pro-women” senator’s bipartisan credentials.

It was a rare move for Baker, who mostly avoids — and often criticizes — national politics and its partisan fights, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. And with party control of the Senate on the line in the election this fall, his state’s two senators, Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, among other national Democrats, have publicly thrown their support behind Gideon.

So why would keeping Collins in the Senate be good for Massachusetts?

Since he took office in 2015, Baker said Collins had “been a phone call away every time I needed to talk to somebody, who has a lot of standing and a lot of history in Washington, about how to accomplish goals and objectives for Massachusetts.”

“She doesn’t represent Massachusetts,” he noted. “But she’s always been there to support the Commonwealth as a member of the New England region.”

Baker ticked off a list of issues — from wind energy to state health care programs to transportation to COVID-19 relief — on which Collins had been a “terrific ally” of Massachusetts.

He particularly singled out her successful advocacy for the elimination of European Union tariffs on American lobster exports, which was finalized last month.

The EU tariffs are separate from the retaliatory lobster tariffs imposed by China in response to President Donald Trump’s aggressive trade tactics, which officials say resulted in hundreds of job losses in Massachusetts. Still, Baker said the European tariffs had been a “huge issue” for the lobster industry in both Maine and Massachusetts. Their elimination, which Collins announced on Aug. 21, was also cheered by Democrats in both states.

“She pretty much did that one all by herself,” Baker said.

Still, local Democrats are less convinced by Collins’ position on international seafood taxation than they are by her votes in support of major domestic Republican agenda items. While she was cheered for being one of the three Republican senators to block the repeal of the Affordable Care Act in 2017, her general approval ratings have taken a nosedive after she sided with Trump and the rest of the GOP in other high-profile battles, including the 2017 tax cut bill and the president’s impeachment trial this past winter.

“A vote for her now is a vote for Mitch McConnell and Trump’s agenda,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, one of several elected Democrats to criticize Baker’s endorsement, tweeted last Friday.

“It’s not good for Maine, and it’s not good for Massachusetts,” Healey said. “Charlie Baker should know that.”

Collins is one of two Republican senators who — like Baker — has come out in opposition to the effort by Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader, to confirm a conservative judge to fill the seat of the recently deceased liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. However, McConnell appears to have enough votes in the GOP-controlled Senate to confirm a new judge anyways.

Collins also voted to confirm Trump’s previous two Supreme Court nominees, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. The senator, who is pro-choice, based her vote for Kavanaugh in 2018 on the notion that he would not strike down abortion protections — an argument that has been complicated by the justice’s more recent actions.

Asked on Wednesday if he planned to make any other out-of-state endorsements this fall, Baker said he and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito would “likely” limit the rest of their political activity to Massachusetts state legislative races.

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