In this July 8, 2021, file photo, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, right, faces reporters as Gov. Charlie Baker, left, looks on during a news conference in Boston. Credit: Steven Senne / AP

BOSTON — Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced Thursday that she’s running for governor, transforming the year’s top political contest by stepping into the race as the presumptive front-runner on the Democratic side.

Healey has the highest profile of any Democratic candidate. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who remains popular with voters, announced in December that he would not seek a third term. Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito has also announced she won’t run.

“I’ve stood with you as the People’s Lawyer, and now I’m running to be your governor to bring us together and come back stronger than ever,” Healey said in a launch video released Thursday.

Healey touted her accomplishments as attorney general in the video, including protecting students and homeowners from predatory lenders, and holding accountable businesses she said contributed to climate change and the opioid epidemic.

“We’ll continue with what’s working and fix what’s not,” she said. “We’ll get our economy back on track and bring job training to every part of our state so that everyone can share in our growth. We’ll make child care more affordable so that every family can have the flexibility and support they need, and we’ll modernize our schools so that our children can learn in a safe, sustainable environment.”

Two other Democrats have already announced their candidacies, including Harvard professor Danielle Allen and state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz. Former state Sen. Ben Downing, the first candidate in the race, dropped out, citing in part a lack of campaign finances.

Healey, 50, has a lot of advantages in the Democratic race. She has wide name recognition, has run two successful statewide races, and has an existing campaign infrastructure and more than $3.6 million in her campaign account as of January.

During the past several years, Healey has positioned herself as a vigorous critic of former President Donald Trump in a state that rejected him by wide margins in the 2016 and 2020 elections. She has also become a national leader in the legal push to hold companies and individuals accountable for the U.S. opioid addiction and overdose epidemic.

If elected, Healey would also be the first openly gay candidate to serve in the state’s top political office.

As attorney general, Healey is facing one oddball hurdle in Massachusetts — the so-called curse of the AG. Since 1958, six former Massachusetts attorneys general have sought the governor’s office. All failed, either by losing their party’s primary, by losing the general election, or in one case by dying before Election Day.

Another question is whether Massachusetts, one of the nation’s most politically liberal states, is finally ready to elect a woman to the corner office.

Since its first governor — signer of the U.S. Constitution John Hancock — took office way back in 1780, Massachusetts has elected an unbroken string of men as governor.

One woman has served, but on only an acting basis: Lt. Gov. Jane Swift, a Republican, took over as governor in 2001 after Paul Cellucci became ambassador to Canada.

Others said to be considering a run include former Boston Mayor and current U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Democratic Boston City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George,  fresh off a defeat  in her campaign to become Boston’s next mayor.

Republican candidate Geoff Diehl, a former GOP state representative from Whitman, announced his candidacy before Baker opted out. He launched an unsuccessful challenge to Democratic U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren in 2018. Diehl is a Trump supporter who served as co-chair of Trump’s Massachusetts 2016 presidential campaign.

Other potential GOP gubernatorial candidates include former U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling — who led the college admissions investigation dubbed Operation Varsity Blues  — and Taunton Mayor Shaunna O’Connell.

Shiva Ayyadurai, who in 2020 lost a Republican primary bid for the U.S. Senate, said he also plans to run.

Story by Steve LeBlanc.