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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Deval is in the details

Even the most die-hard Deval Patrick supporter will need a deep breath to absorb the impact of the latest Suffolk University Poll. But backers of Charlie Baker and Tim Cahill shouldn't be planning how they will redecorate the Corner Office either.

Patrick continues to hold a nominal lead over his two main rivals for the governor. But only 29 percent of likely voters said they thought he deserved re-election, compared to 60 percent who wanted to give “someone else” a chance. And Patrick pulls a job approval rating of 35 percent,with 68 percent of voters viewing him a “weak leader.”

Tough stuff for even the most cheery and optimistic sorts.

In cases like this, the tried and true method of gaining the upper hand is defining your opponent before he or she gets the chance to do so. In the overwhelming majority of cases, that means going negative, something that would seem to contradict the Patrick method of operation.

Yet the poll does provide a roadmap for the Patrick campaign to thread a needle of definition without a barrage of negative ads -- something Baker, with his cash reserves, could easily match.

The survey suggests the former Harvard Pilgrim Health Care executive is riding the Scott Brown wave -- up 10 points among independents since November. And that's with 35 percent of the respondents who have never heard of him. Yet that high "don't know" leaves room for Patrick to maneuver.

And Treasurer Tim (oops, Tim in '10) has little beyond catchy slogans going for him in the eyes of the public. Other than a record of seven years with few if any noteworthy accomplishments and a broad portfolio into which investigative reporters can rummage.

Not to mention a public that seems to have caught on to the fact that Cahill is an IINO -- independent in name only -- a lifelong Democrat who dropped out to improve his political chances for the ultimate race.

The governor will also need to heavily promote the fact the has has a substantial record of accomplishment -- ethics and pension reform and a transportation overhaul in one year -- over the objections of the Legislature.

With lawmakers strongly arrayed against him, touting those accomplishments would seem to be the logical first step in advertising. It could also serve to inoculate him, somewhat, against the anti-legislature mood that will likely be a major factor.

Patrick has made a belated effort to re-energize his strength in 2006 -- the grassroots. Whether that will be too little to late is the ultimate question. But almost half the respondents saying they don't think a Republican is the answer, Patrick has two powerful tools in his arsenal -- the words "Republican" and "insurance executive" to slap onto Baker and "opportunist" to slap onto Cahill.

But it will require a lot of skill to thread the needle without stabbing himself, something he has shown a propensity to do.

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