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A Weld protégé, Baker says it’s too ‘early’ to talk 2020 support

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker called it “awfully early” to be discussing the presidential election, and in a refrain reminiscent of the 2016 presidential campaign, he said he’s focused on his day job.
Cliff Owen/Associated Press/File 2019
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker called it “awfully early” to be discussing the presidential election, and in a refrain reminiscent of the 2016 presidential campaign, he said he’s focused on his day job.

Bill Weld hired Charlie Baker, he was a mentor to Baker, and he has campaigned and raised money for the governor. But that doesn’t mean Baker is running to Weld’s presidential corner.

Ever cautious in the national political arena, Baker on Tuesday would not say whether he’d back Weld’s GOP primary challenge to President Trump days after the former governor — and former Libertarian — announced he was creating a presidential exploratory committee. Baker called it “awfully early” to be discussing the presidential election, and in a refrain reminiscent of the 2016 presidential campaign, he said he’s focused on his day job.

The step by Weld drew national headlines, and it could ultimately mean Republicans frustrated with Trump’s rhetoric and approach will have an alternative when they go to the ballot box in 2020.

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Baker would seemingly be among those looking for another option. He’s said that he has no plans to vote for Trump in 2020 after repeatedly clashing with and criticizing his party leader over the last three-plus years.

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And in Weld, he would find a candidate he knows well. He was a two-time secretary under Weld when the latter cut a reputation as a fiscally conservative, socially moderate Republican in the State House. And during his campaign for governor in 2014, Baker leaned heavily on his ties to him: His campaign released a supportive statement from Weld the day Baker launched his run, and Baker later included Weld in a campaign ad.

Weld, too, backed Baker in his reelection campaign, headlining a fund-raiser for the state Republican party that fall even as he clung to his since-discarded Libertarian label. At the time, Weld said “it would be odd not to” support Baker.

But Baker didn’t edge out onto that political limb Tuesday.

“Look, I worked for Bill Weld for six years. And he’s a mentor of mine and I admire the heck out of the work he did here as governor. But I think it’s awfully early to be talking about the presidential election, which is a very long time from now,” Baker said. “I plan to focus on my day job here in this building.”

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Surrounded by reporters at the State House, Baker also reiterated that he himself has no designs of entering the race. “I have zero interest,” he said.

Baker’s own state party has weighed forcefully into Weld’s candidacy, with chair Jim Lyons last week likening Weld to Benedict Arnold and predicting that Republicans “will reject” him.

Baker, too, tried hard to stray from even that discussion.

“One of the things I said . . . a minute ago is that I plan to focus on my day job and I meant it,” he said. “If other people want to engage on, sort of, the big issues around the presidential election in 2020, they can do that. But that’s not going to be what I spend my time and energy on.”

Reach Matt Stout at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.