Can Patrick Hang On?

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  September 29, 2010

The analysts — including some Republicans and non-partisans — say that Baker's angry-man act, with themes like "Had Enough," doesn't fit the mood of the state, which is closer to anxiety than rage.

The result, even with very little negative advertising against him, is that even the Globe poll, Baker's best so far, finds that just 33 percent of voters have a favorable impression of him, with 25 percent holding an unfavorable opinion, and a plurality not yet knowing enough to have an opinion at all. (At this point four years ago, the previously unknown Patrick had 55 percent favorability, and went on to win with 55 percent of the vote.)

Baker has also become increasingly unpopular with Cahill supporters, thanks to the merciless attacks he and the Republican Party have unleashed on the independent beginning in the spring, with a $2 million ad campaign depicting Cahill as a corrupt hack, and continuing with almost daily public insults even now.

This is all making it much easier for Patrick to see a path to victory. Cahill voters — turned off by Baker's merciless attacks against their candidate — are now seen as equally likely to choose Patrick as their second choice, and even those who want Patrick to lose are probably increasingly inclined to stick with Cahill in a losing effort, rather than switch to Baker to help defeat the incumbent.

Most crucially, Baker's numbers among unenrolled voters is nowhere near the two-to-one advantage that gave Scott Brown his four-point win over Martha Coakley early this year.

So, all Patrick needs to do to win in this three-way race is to convince disappointed but Democratic-leaning voters to come home to their guy. And the campaign has a grassroots plan to do that — a plan that some think is somewhere between moronic and insane.

Pledge time
At Patrick headquarters, down the hall from the Massachusetts Democratic Party in a building not far from Sullivan Station in Charlestown, yellow pledge cards are ubiquitous. If Walsh and the Patrick team are right, these cards are the key to the re-election.

Patrick's field operation is devoted entirely to a novel plan: get 21,700 volunteer organizers (10 times the number of voting precincts in the state) to each recruit 50 people who pledge to vote for Deval Patrick in November. That adds up to over one million voters — which should be more than enough to win — personally identified and easy to target on election day. This adds a low-tech twist to the campaign's high-tech voter-ID program: "It's like running a state-rep race 15 or 20 years ago, when you'd sit in a room and split up voters," says Clare Kelly, the campaign's field director. Campaign manager Sydney Asbury brought a stack of the yellow cards to her own wedding this summer.

Old-fashioned phone-banking to identify supportive voters no longer works, Kelly says. (The disastrous Coakley operation relied on phone banks, Patrick campaign insiders point out.) "No one picks up their phones," she adds. "But they're going to pick up or call back if it's someone they know."

That concern about phones also means that the final get-out-the-vote push will use those volunteers and pledge lists to actually knock on doors of pledged voters across the state — rather than attempting to call 1.6 million identified voters, as they did in 2006. Using mobile technologies, poll watchers will track individual voters, Walsh says, so the volunteers can target only those who have not yet voted.

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