Setti Warren has ended his campaign for Massachusetts governor, narrowing the pool of Democratic candidates looking to challenge Republican incumbent Charlie Baker in the gubernatorial election next November.
The former Newton mayor told the Boston Globe Wednesday that he faced “insurmountable financial hurdles” in running against Baker. Warren had a meager $51,644 in his account after a year of campaigning, barely holding a candle to Baker’s $7.9 million.
In reality, Baker is unlikely to be unseated by anyone. He is the highest-rated governor in the nation and consistently earns 70 percent approval ratings. Warren was widely considered the Democratic frontrunner, and now that he has folded, candidates Jay Gonzalez and Robert Massie are left to challenge Baker with just $127,418 and $20,831 respectively.
Whether or not you agree with Baker’s policies, his success points to a system of entrenched power — incumbents cannot be unseated and candidates with large personal fortunes and support from big donors are able to remain in high positions, preventing a turnover of ideas.
The money that pays for elections comes primarily from big donors — super PACs, or large political action committees, raise unlimited amounts of money in support of candidates who address their interests.
This system of political fundraising gives an advantage to those already in positions of power. Super PACs are more likely to invest in candidates with name recognition. Baker is well-known, well-liked and presumed to win the upcoming election. Corporations want to invest in a candidate who is likely to win and enact policies that benefit them, and taking a chance on a lesser-known candidate may be a waste of resources.
As a result, it’s incredibly difficult to unseat an incumbent governor — out of the 130 gubernatorial races that have taken place in the United States since 1998, incumbents have won 86 percent of them. Massachusetts is one of the 12 states with no gubernatorial term limit, making it possible for one person to control the office indefinitely. Baker himself has served as governor since 2014.
Incumbents are also rarely challenged by a candidate from within their own party. This is because the majority of the time, incumbents receive the endorsement from their party leaders. If the Republican party sees that a gubernatorial candidate is doing well in their current position and staying on the party line, they’re going to want to keep them there.
This propensity of current governors to stay in power, as is the case with Baker, makes an exchange of ideas nearly impossible. We need political turnover to progress. Without term limits, one person can achieve a position of power and consistently produce the same policy. With no space for new ideas, the world changes while the administration remains stagnant.
When candidates feel as though they cannot challenge an incumbent because they do not have the same financial resources, this signifies a fundamental problem with our democracy and leads us to ask — is money winning elections?
Warren’s concession answers that question, loud and clear. Money remains a roadblock to diversity of voices in politics, keeping upcoming candidates without personal fortunes amassed from years in the game and financial support from wealthy donors from having the same platform as their seasoned counterparts.
If you support Baker based on his policy and want to reflect that by donating to his campaign or voting for him, that’s exactly what you should do. Being invested in your leadership is essential to a democracy. But vote for the incumbent because you believe in them, not because it’s the obvious answer.