Can Patrick Hang On?

What Deval needs to do now
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  September 29, 2010

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Massachusetts has a mixed record of re-electing governors. We kept William Weld in 1994 and Michael Dukakis in 1986, but ousted Ed King in 1982, Frank Sargent in 1974, and Michael Dukakis in 1978. Other incumbents, including most recently Mitt Romney, have not even tried for an additional term.

By rights, Deval Patrick should have no chance. He's an unpopular governor (a majority of voters believe he does not deserve re-election) running in the middle of a devastating recession. He faces a brutal economic climate, widespread anti–Beacon Hill sentiment, and a formidable challenge in Republican star Charlie Baker. Given those hurdles, many doubted that Patrick would even seek re-election.

Yet Patrick is not only running, he has led in every poll taken this year. Most, including two released last week, showed Patrick leading Baker by between six and eight percentage points. A Boston Globe poll conducted by University of New Hampshire had Baker trailing by just one, well within the margin of error.

Nobody thinks Patrick can coast to November 2, but it also doesn't look like he's going to get wiped out, as his low approval numbers might suggest. His own brain trust — people like strategist Doug Rubin, Massachusetts Democratic Party chairman John Walsh, and communications advisor Larry Carpman — expects it to be a close race decided at the wire.

Patrick is now in full campaign mode, packing his days with public speeches and private fundraisers. His campaign operation is implementing an aggressive outreach program centered around hundreds of thousands of yellow "pledge cards."

The task is to convince weary, skeptical voters that this administration has accomplished much, and has the commonwealth's economy on the mend. Patrick points to a long list of achievements, from education reform to dramatic speeding of the business-permitting process, and brags that Massachusetts has had the best job-growth rate in the country since the start of 2010, with 65,000 more people employed in August than at the end of 2009.

It's a tough sell. Much of the public thinks the state is heading down the wrong track, and don't see the economic tide turning. They are not inclined to let Patrick's administration, in the words of his campaign slogan, "finish what we've started."

The challenge was apparent in a Quincy IHOP, where Patrick met last Monday with a job-search club — one of a number of stops where I watched him in action over the course of a week. The IHOP was a late addition to Patrick's itinerary, and was kept off both his campaign and governor's office schedules. He was supposed to stay for 30 minutes but sat for an hour and a half, jacket off, taking notes as he went around the table. The audience: 20 people who'd been meeting weekly for 18 months, in which time just four of their members had found new employment.

"Most of them in there are about my age," Patrick would say afterward. "Many of them were trying, at the outset, to get back into the field they just left. Now many are looking to get into a new field."

The group's members were glad that Patrick had come, and impressed with his attention to their stories. But their expectations were low. "I don't honestly think the elected officials get what's going on," one told me. Another scoffed at the claims she has heard about job creation in the state: "Where are those jobs?"

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