The electoral potential of Deval Patrick’s pitch

Starry-eyed dreamer
By ADAM REILLY  |  September 20, 2006

Deval Patrick after last night's Primary results
When Deval Patrick’s landslide win in Tuesday’s Democratic gubernatorial primary gets parsed in the coming days, much attention will be paid to the formidable organization Patrick built in cities and towns across Massachusetts. But while his grassroots triumph is surely noteworthy, it’s just part of the story. Patrick organized so effectively — and won the primary by such a big margin — because of something far less tangible: his ability to cast his candidacy as a collective existential project that transcends mere politics.

Think that sounds hokey? Not when Patrick’s talking, it doesn’t — and not coincidentally, this particular message was front and center in his post-primary speech at the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel Tuesday night. When Patrick finally took the stage, a little after 11 pm, this was the first thing he said: “From the very beginning . . . I’ve asked you to see this not as my campaign, but as yours. Not as my chance to be governor, but as your chance to reclaim our civic and political future. And that’s why tonight’s victory is yours.” Then, a few minutes later: “Not only did we win at the polls, we turned a political campaign into a movement for change.” Later still, as his speech was drawing to a close: “We’ve already changed politics in Massachusetts, but this is not the end. This is not the end. At most, this is the end of the beginning . . . The real change comes when every man, woman and child in this commonwealth has a reason to hope.”

The knock on Patrick’s message is obvious: it sounds nice, but it doesn’t actually mean anything. Patrick’s Democratic opponents said as much during the primary, and Howie Carr & Co. will hammer away at the same point on WRKO-AM from now until Election Day. But this critique is too facile. At this particular point in time — after the Clinton years, and the Bush years, and Mitt Romney’s opportunistic stint as Massachusetts governor — the notion that politics could actually be ennobling is as exhilarating as it is counterintuitive. Tom Reilly would have trouble making this argument convincingly; so would Chris Gabrieli. But Patrick is another story.

Yeah, his opposition to the voter-approved income-tax rollback is a serious liability, and Republican nominee Kerry Healey is sure to make the most of it between now and November. On the other hand, opportunities to vote your aspirations only come along once or twice in a lifetime. Patrick gives voters just such a chance — and if Tuesday was any indication, they’re inclined to take him up on it. Healey may be getting more than she bargained for.

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