By Katie Lannan
BOSTON -- YouTube viewers met Charlie Baker's wife back in October, and last week, they met his brother, too.
Second-time Republican gubernatorial candidate Baker released a video Thursday with his younger brother Alex, casually chatting about their memories of Alex Baker telling his family in 1981 that he was gay.
It's part of an effort by the Baker campaign to show a personal side this time around.
A softer approach could help, some analysts say, but only if it's backed up with issue positions voters support.
"Last time, Baker ran as sort of an unsuccessful candidate, and now he's repositioning himself as more of a caring person, with the credentials," said Tobe Berkovitz, a Boston University professor with 30 years experience as a political media consultant. "That type of thing is very common, especially early, early, early on in a campaign where you're just trying to shape public opinion."
Baker lost his bid against Gov. Deval Patrick in 2010. At the time, he was criticized as being aloof and rigid.
Baker's first family-oriented video came early in the 2014 campaign, launching on Oct. 17, a month after he announced his candidacy.
The spot, about a minute in length, stars his wife and makes no mention of the candidate's policies or political experience.
"Family, for us, is the center of our lives," Lauren Baker says in the video. "It's our anchor."
She goes on to discuss what kind of father Charlie is to the Baker family's "three great kids," while snapshots show the children with their dad.
This approach won't hurt, Berkovitz said, but Baker will need to take it a step further and paint himself as both "a decent human being" and "a competent manager."
"He's a Republican running in Massachusetts, which is basically like running as a moderate Democrat anywhere else," he said. "He needs to show that he's in step on the social issues with most of the voters, and he wants to show that he's going to march in a different direction than the Democratic politicians when it comes to financial and economic matters."
Baker campaign spokesman Tim Buckley highlighted the Lauren Baker video last week while explaining the plan to emphasize Baker's family ties and softer side.
"It's just another way to let voters know what Charlie cares about," Buckley said. "In the campaign, there's really three main points that we're out there talking about: jobs, schools and community. The community aspect is kind of what both of the Web videos are geared toward, showing that Charlie cares about the future of Massachusetts for families. He does that by talking about what really inspires him to run for office."
In the YouTube video with his brother, Charlie Baker doesn't explicitly state any policy positions. But the Baker brothers recall Charlie telling Alex "it's no big deal" when Alex came out.
The video marks the 10-year anniversary of Massachusetts legalizing same-sex marriage. Alex Baker has been married to his husband, Rich, for 10 years, he says in the video.
"The institution of marriage in Massachusetts isn't crumbling because of gay marriage," Alex says. "And part of me just keeps hoping that the rest of the country can look at Massachusetts and realize, you know, it isn't that big a deal."
Frank Talty, co-director of the Center for Public Opinion at UMass Lowell, said the "Brothers" video reminds him of the fight to legalize same-sex marriage in Maine. Months after Gov. John Baldacci signed a bill in 2009 allowing same-sex couples to marry, voters struck down the law in a referendum. Another referendum three years later brought back same-sex marriage.
The difference between the two votes, Talty said, wasn't just the passage of time. He credits in part an advertising campaign that showed "people telling real stories about themselves, fathers talking about their daughters, grandparents talking about their grandkids that were gay."
"It made all the difference in the world," Talty said. "I think that is the way to sort of present the issue from the perspective as a policy issue. I think it's a smart move on (Baker's) part, in a state that clearly is supportive of marriage equality and gender equality generally."
Peter Ubertaccio, chairman of the political-science and international-studies department at Stonehill College, said Baker's new video humanizes him, but deals with a subject matter that's now "par for the course."
"I am no longer stunned or moved when a politician makes it clear that they're OK with gay rights or they have a family member who's gay," Ubertaccio said. "That's kind of old news in Massachusetts."
Baker faces a primary challenge from tea-party candidate Mark Fisher. The winner will face off against whichever of the five current Democratic candidates clears the caucus and primary process: state Treasurer Steve Grossman, Attorney General Martha Coakley, Joe Avellone, Don Berwick or Juliette Kayyem.
There are also two third-party candidates in the race, Independent Jeff McCormick and Evan Falchuk, running under the mantel of the United Independent Party.
Baker's charge in a state with a heavily unenrolled and Democratic electorate is to pick up independents and uncommitted voters, Ubertaccio said.
Ubertaccio said Baker's positioning himself as a "kinder, gentler candidate this time around" will appeal to some, but ultimately, it comes down to policy.
"The danger for Republicans, and I include Baker in this danger, is the positions that he holds on many social issues are the same that many Democrats hold," he said. "So the difficulty is trying to differentiate yourself in a state where those positions are kind of commonplace."
As for alienating a conservative, right-wing base with more liberal stances on social issues, Talty said it shouldn't be much of a concern.
"Well, they're not going to vote for the Democrat," he said. "I think that's a low-risk calculation. Where are they going to go?"
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