SWAMPSCOTT — Republican Charles D. Baker on Thursday rebutted Democratic charges that he had bungled the Big Dig financing plan, calling the allegations a sign that Democrats are mired “in the last century” and are running low on affirmative proposals of their own.
Speaking to the Globe for the first time since announcing his run for governor on Wednesday, Baker brushed off the Democrats’ revival of an attack from the 2010 campaign over his role in the Big Dig project as the state’s budget chief, calling it a stale issue.
“I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about stuff that happened in the last century,” he said.
He added, “If that’s really all they have to talk about, they’re pretty much out of ideas.”
Three years after his loss in the governor’s race left him with a “bruised ego,” Baker told the Globe during an interview at his home today that he regretted how he had conducted his campaign against Governor Deval Patrick in 2010, and wanted to spend more time listening during this one.
“I violated all of my own standards and rules for management and leadership,” Baker said of the last race.
Friends approached him after the 2010 contest and told him, “The guy I knew, I didn’t see him,” Baker said.
“I even felt that way,” Baker’s wife, Lauren, said, laughing as she sat next to him in the foyer of their Swampscott home where the interview took place.
In his debut press conference later in the day, Baker spoke for more than 30 minutes outside his sprawling house, his wife by his side, again trying to showcase a a warmer, goofier side of his personality and to soften some of the conservative stances he took in 2010.
“That guy, that goofy family guy, that really enthusiastic, hard-charging, set-the-bar-high, let’s-go-get-it-type leader: people never thought they saw him,” Baker said. “And for us, when we talked about doing this again, we said, ‘If nothing, else, whatever happens, in November 2014, we do not want the people who know me best to come up to us afterward and say, ‘Where were you? We never saw that guy.’ So we’re going to make sure you see that guy.”
As he spoke, he peppered his remarks with jokes and little asides to Lauren Baker.
“Do you think I’m not funny?” he asked his wife at one point. “Do you think I have no personality?” Lauren Baker just laughed.
At another point, when Charles Baker was asked about a running mate, Baker turned to his wife and said, “What do you think, hon? Are you up for it?” She shook her head and chuckled.
“No,” Lauren Baker said. “That’s not the job for me.”
Lauren Baker said she and her husband talked a lot about running and that although she believes campaigns can be tough on families, she looks forward to meeting voters. She also reflected on the lessons of the 2010 campaign, saying, “the failing part was probably the biggest piece of learning we did.”
In addition to trying to set a more engaging tone, Baker also backed away from the tough positions he took in the 2010 campaign.
He said he will no longer push to cut the income, sales and corporate tax rates back to 5 percent, which was a central plank of his platform in 2010, when he traveled the state calling himself, a “five, five and five guy.” Instead, Baker said he will support more modest tax relief: a rollback in the recently passed tax on computer services companies and repeal of a measure that indexes the gas tax to inflation.
Baker also dodged a question about whether he would welcome to the campaign trail Mitt Romney, the former governor whose popularity has plummeted in Massachusetts. Baker said he has been focused on enlisting “regular people supporters,” and though he welcomes Romney’s vote, he wasn’t willing to broach the idea of him campaigning for him.
“We haven’t even though about stuff like that,” Baker said.
Lauren Baker figures to play a vastly more prominent role in Baker’s 2014 campaign — after staying largely off stage during the 2010 race — as Baker looks to close a yawning deficit among female voters, whom he lost to Patrick by 24 percentage points, according to a post-election poll taken by MassINC.
Acknowledging that “I don’t love” politics, she said that after the last campaign, she was initially eager to run again.
“It was so frustrating,” she said. “It’s really hard to lose and I think the first thing I wanted was another chance and then I was like, ‘Wait a minute, why would you ever do that again?’”
The Bakers said they increasingly warmed to the notion of a second run over the course of the summer, although Lauren Baker said she was not completely certain that her husband would run again until the moment she saw the announcement video his campaign released on Wednesday.
Charles Baker said his struggle to connect with female voters in 2010 came in part because he didn’t “focus enough on my vision for Massachusetts” and pointed to “an ode” on his desk that nurses at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care had given him when he stepped down as CEO there.
“I believe I’m a real champion for women,” he said.
The candidate said that although former senator Scott Brown had indicated to him that he had other plans, Baker was not certain that Brown would not run for governor until he received a text message from someone who had been listening to Brown’s public announcement on WBZ radio several weeks ago.
Baker said he planned to center his 2014 campaign around three key subject areas: the economy, education, and building stronger partnership between Beacon Hill and local governments.
He said he would seek a repeal of the new software services tax, which businesses have criticized as devastating to the state’s technology sector. He also said he likely would have vetoed the casino bill that Patrick signed in 2011, but said he now views the issue largely as settled law.
Baker noted he still opposes Cape Wind, saying there are far cheaper and more efficient ways to deliver clean energy to state ratepayers. “It’s just not an economically viable project,” he said of the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm, calling it a “windfall” for the project’s developers.
Asked about signing a no-new-taxes pledge, an oath he took in his last campaign, Baker said he would not sign it again, saying he did not want to be shackled by such limitations as he sought to restructure the tax code.
Listing a series of reforms implemented under Republican administrations through bipartisan efforts, he downplayed the effectiveness of reforms enacted since Democrats have enjoyed autonomy on Beacon Hill.
Though he has already hired several staffers, Baker said he is in the process of vetting campaign managers. He has signed up Doug McAuliffe, a Virginia media consultant who produced Baker’s announcement video, and is working with Will Keyser, a longtime Democratic strategist who was a top aide for the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy.Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com. Frank Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org