Don’t be surprised to see Obama announce at least one visit to the state in that stretch — and don’t underestimate the effect of an Obama in-person rally. You may recall the exuberant crowds on the Boston Common when Obama appeared here in support of Patrick, or the 5000 attendees at Obama’s fundraiser at the Agganis Arena this past April. A high-energy Obama swing through the state could easily change the poll numbers here overnight.
If the backing of the Democratic establishment in Massachusetts is not exactly golden, we don’t really know the strength of Patrick’s Midas touch, either.
“Deval Patrick’s got almost this mythic grassroots organization,” says one Clinton insider. “But we proved in New Hampshire that we can out-organize them.”
Certainly, Clinton’s win in New Hampshire gave observers reason to question the value of Patrick’s endorsement — and of the hundreds of Obama volunteers who streamed up from Massachusetts.
In fact, some, including WBZ’s Jon Keller, have suggested that Obama’s similarity to Patrick may have done him more harm than good among New Hampshirites, who are well aware of the lack of quick progress that the Massachusetts governor has made.
This could be even more of a problem in Massachusetts. Frankly, a lot of Massachusetts Democrats now wonder whether they were snookered into believing that an unknown and inexperienced candidate, however inspirational his rhetoric, could really change the entrenched Beacon Hill bureaucracy, let alone Capitol Hill’s.
Obama’s supporters, naturally, dispute the notion that Democrats are worrisomely down on Patrick, and argue that, regardless, people are still looking for the same kind of change. “Deval Patrick was the instrument of that in 2006,” Solomont says, “and Barack Obama is the instrument of that in 2008.”
Clinton campaign staff won’t say that they’ll use disappointment in Patrick as an argument against Obama — not exactly, anyway. They do point out that Clinton’s central campaign theme is the importance of experience — that “we know that she’s ready from day one.”
If people in Massachusetts take that to mean that Obama will go through a Patrick-like learning curve, with far more at stake in a world of peril, well, the Clinton folks won’t argue otherwise.
Perhaps that’s why, so far, Patrick has been touting Obama much more in faraway places — Iowa, South Carolina — than in Boston and Worcester. Or perhaps it’s just the natural presidential-campaign obsession with the earliest voting states.
Either way, it’s hard to avoid feeling as though the schedule thus far seems more likely to boost Patrick’s fortunes in national politics than Obama’s.
There is little doubt that Obama’s Massachusetts campaign is late getting its act together, says Michael Dukakis, former governor and presidential nominee, particularly considering the importance Patrick placed on early organization during his successful campaign.
In the earliest days of Patrick’s crusade, Dukakis points out, anyone who came to a speech or event got signed up as a precinct captain. That’s only just now starting to take place for Obama. “It’s happening now, but it’s three weeks to go,” says Dukakis, who is currently spending a semester teaching at UCLA. “This should have happened in the spring and early summer [of 2007].”