“Mark Wahlberg is asking me for a pardon?,” Charlie Baker said as he folded his lengthy frame into the backseat of a black SUV one evening in December. Until his election as governor of Massachusetts the month before, the only elected office achieved by Baker, a Republican, had been selectman of Swampscott (population 13,800), a position he held for a single term. He had also spent nearly eight years as a state-cabinet official in the 1990s. But some responsibilities, Baker was discovering, accrue only to the chief executive. Informed by an aide that the actor was seeking to have a decades-old assault conviction expunged from his record, Baker turned to me and said drily, “He seems to have overcome that.”
The rest of the country may have experienced a Republican wave in November’s midterm elections, but in the Northeast, that wave only lapped the shore. Yes, the GOP picked up a House seat in Maine and another in New Hampshire (previously, the party hadn’t held a single one in New England). Yes, Republicans took over the state Senate in Maine and the state House of Representatives in New Hampshire. And, yes, Maine’s firebrand GOP governor, Paul LePage—a Tea Party favorite who once told the NAACP to “kiss my butt” and who supports repealing child-labor laws—was reelected. And yet the Northeast remained overwhelmingly Democratic territory: GOP candidates lost close gubernatorial races in Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. Scott Brown, the former Massachusetts senator, fell just short in his bid for New Hampshire senator. Even with the Republicans’ pickup of two House seats, New England’s new congressional delegation was 85 percent Democratic.