By Tim McLaughlin
BOSTON (Reuters) - Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a popular Republican leader in a Democratic stronghold, said on Wednesday he will not seek a third term in 2022.
Baker, a former healthcare executive known for his skill at managing budgets and who sometimes clashed with former President Donald Trump, has maintained high approval ratings throughout a tenure marked by a surging Massachusetts economy and high vaccination rates during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among the accomplishments he cited in a statement released on Wednesday were criminal justice and law enforcement reforms, cutting the state income tax to 5% and boosting the state's reserve fund.
Baker, 65, became governor after narrowly defeating Democratic nominee Martha Coakley, a popular state attorney general, by less than 2 percentage points. He easily won re-election in 2018, defeating his Democratic opponent, Jay Gonzalez, by a 2-to-1 margin.
A Harvard graduate, Baker fit the mold of previous Republican governors in Massachusetts by being fiscally conservative with a social agenda that squared with the state's liberal base.
Baker maintained his distance from the policies of Trump, a fellow Republican whom he did not support in two elections. Baker has said he kept his ballot blank in 2016 and 2020 rather than cast a vote for Trump.
Baker did not back Trump's unsupported contention that he lost the White House to Democrat Joe Biden because the election results were rigged.
In March, a poll on the one-year anniversary of the pandemic showed that 52% of residents approved of Baker's performance, according to YouGov. Though that was down from 78% several months earlier, Baker still was seen as the favorite in the next gubernatorial election.
With Baker out of the mix, the race for governor is expected to be wide open, with Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, a Republican, and the state Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat, as early frontrunners.
(Reporting by Tim McLaughlin in Boston; Editing by Matthew Lewis)