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Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker says he won't be running for reelection

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker says he will not run for a third term next year. A moderate Republican leading a left-leaning state, Baker remains one of the nation's most popular governors. But he was facing a tough primary challenge from a conservative endorsed by former President Donald Trump. NPR's Tovia Smith has more.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Massachusetts' Republican Party has shifted to the right in the seven years since Baker was elected, and recent polls show the social progressive and fiscal conservative now more popular with Democrats and independents than he is among fellow Republicans. Explaining his decision, Baker noted the, quote, "political grudge matches political campaigns can devolve into." And he said that running for reelection would be a distraction from important work to help the economic recovery and keep schools open, for example, as the pandemic persists.

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CHARLIE BAKER: I had a bunch of people say to me, well, the reason you should run for a third term is because of the pandemic. I actually think just the opposite. We believe the pandemic means we really ought to just focus on the work and get it done.

SMITH: Baker's lieutenant governor, Karyn Polito, also decided not to run. They're the latest in a string of moderate Republicans nationwide opting not to run again or to get pushed out. But Baker dismissed suggestions that he was shaken after his would-be primary challenger was endorsed by former President Trump.

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BAKER: No, not at all.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: ...The party is taking you...

BAKER: No.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: ...In such a different direction.

BAKER: Not at all.

SMITH: There was talk of Baker running as an independent, and polls suggest he might have been successful. But the lifelong Republican has dismissed the idea of quitting his party. Indeed, Republican consultant Rob Gray, who has worked for Baker in previous campaigns, says working across the aisle will go down as one of Baker's greatest accomplishments.

ROB GRAY: He succeeded as a moderate governing from the middle, really between the 45-yard lines, at all times. And that was unpopular with some Republicans but not enough to stop him from winning reelection.

SMITH: Baker's decision now leaves the governor's race wide open to more moderate Republican challengers and to Democrats. Several are already running. And Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh is among many expecting a run by the state's popular attorney general, a sharp critic of former President Trump.

MARY ANNE MARSH: The more Healey gets into the governor's race, she's not only the frontrunner in the Democratic primary; she becomes the frontrunner to be the next governor of Massachusetts.

SMITH: As for Baker's future, the 65-year-old has long insisted he's not done working, but he was categorical when asked if he was ruling out a run for president.

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BAKER: (Laughter) Yeah. Yeah.

SMITH: Baker also shied away from any questions about his legacy. He'll talk about that, he says, when he's done.

Tovia Smith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.