Can Patrick Hang On?

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  September 29, 2010

While Patrick sat with the job-search group, I queried other restaurant customers about the governor — and heard mostly poor reviews.

That included two African-American women, residents of Dorchester, in their 40s — demographically, slam-dunk votes for any Democrat. But they were decidedly cold on the governor, citing economic conditions that have affected their family and community. "I know the recession isn't his fault," one said. But, things should be better than they are, and "he's the one in charge, and you have to hold him responsible."

In the next five weeks, Patrick needs to convince voters like her that he's worth keeping, or they'll take a chance on someone new — as they did with him four years ago.

Constraints and conundrums
To convince voters, Patrick needs to boast of accomplishments without seeming out of touch. Or, looked at another way, he must acknowledge the tough times while explaining how he is making them better.

He also wants to sell voters on his second term, without talking much about what he actually intends to do with it. Clearly, Patrick fears that anything he mentions he'd like to do would immediately become a campaign issue, attacked, picked on, and distracting from his message.

Those constraints become apparent frequently as he meets with groups around the state. A week ago, I saw Patrick speak at a conference of disability-service providers, where the 80 or so attendees were clearly worried that further budget cuts might disrupt not only their ability to get paid but their clients' ability to receive desperately needed services. Patrick hinted that he hoped to address gaps in the system, but said that he couldn't say more — because Baker's tracker was filming in the back of the room. At the South Shore Chamber of Commerce, a question about budget cuts led him to mention "difficult decisions," but added "I'm not going to signal all of them."

Patrick has been working on a new stump speech to thread these needles, and he tried out at a campaign rally last weekend in Boston's South End, for a crowd of some 500 supporters.

In the speech, Patrick used his own story — of rising from the desperation of Chicago South Side poverty — to introduce a theme of optimism and effort. "The great gift of my South Side community was learning how to hope for the best, and then work for it," he said.

That is the same ethic he has brought to the state's economic woes, he said.

The governor's brain trust believes this personal approach resonates beyond his enthusiastic Democratic base. And so Patrick has also been stressing, in recent speeches and debates, the values that guide his decisions as governor. He speaks of "generational responsibility" — to groups as different as a Gaston Institute conference for Hispanic leaders, and the South Shore Chamber of Commerce — suggesting that recent Republican governors have made short-sighted decisions at a cost to the future success of the state and its citizens.

These are similar to the optimistic, pitch-in-together themes Patrick ran on as an outsider in 2006 — an upbeat tempo that works well with his supporters, like those in the South End, for whom they provide a sense of purpose behind the campaign.

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  Topics: Talking Politics , Doug Rubin, Deval Patrick, Massachusetts,  More more >
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