Monday, August 30, 2010

Massachusetts Governor Race

Race of the Day

Massachusetts Governor

August 30, 2010
64 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2008 Presidential Result: Blue State (East)

Outlook: Tossup (D)

As strongly Democrat as Massachusetts has been for decades, Deval Patrick in 2006, broke a streak that had seen the Bay State vote Republican for Governor in the four straight previous elections. With Patrick esconsed in the Corner Office, one party dominance of the state's politics seemed complete, but that theory was thrown for a loop at the beginning of this year, with Scott Brown's shocking Special Election win for the U.S. Senate seat which had been held by Ted Kennedy. In the wake of that triumph, Massachusetts Republicans are setting their sights on winning back the Governorship, and have a real good opportunity to do so. The race however is somewhat complicated and the GOP may need to find at least a small break before all is done.

Since becoming the first African-American Governor of the state, and currently the only one in the country, Patrick's administration has faced some controversies over personal spending and voter dissatisfaction about job performance as well. Issues related to the state's pilot universal health care law are likely to be a big part of the final stretch and something that national observers will pay close attention to.

Some of the campaign professionals responsible for winning the White House for Barack Obama were dispensed to Massachusetts to try to revive Patrick's fortunes, and it seems to have worked a bit, as Patrick's job approval rating is just around the 50 percent mark. That's definitely not great news for the incumbent, but seems to be better than where he once was. Patrick is facing a primary challenge this year from a former Green Party nominee for Governor, but nobody is predicting any danger there.

On the surface though, a larger problem for Patrick may be the fact that the state's elected Treasuer Tim Cahill, announced he was leaving the Democrats to serve as an Independent, and would also be launching a campaign for Governor. If the Democrat vote is split between two of the victorious components of the 2006 ticket, that could create a huge opportunity for Republicans. The GOP will need to work though to make Cahill a more appealing choice to Democrats, while also making him a less attractive choice to Republicans or independent leaning voters. Polling data has indicated that Cahill's presence might serve to help Patrick politically, rather than what would have otherwise been expected. Cahill is running with a Republican as his candidate for Lt. Governor.

The Republicans have an appealing candidate in former state cabinet official and health care CEO Charlie Baker. The wealthy, moderate Republican was nominated by the state party this spring and is not facing a primary challenge. He seems to fit the ideological profile of some successful past GOP candidates for Governor of Massachusetts as well as the business background that helped elect Mitt Romney to the job in 2006. Perhaps understanding the liberal ethos of the state, Baker's running mate is an openly gay GOP state legislative leader. He had previously made entreaties to Cahill to serve as his running mate.

There has been some fluctuation in the polls of this contest. When Patrick was at his most unpopular, Baker appeared to be in a dead heat in the three way contest. As some time went on though, Patrick moved into a lead, and it appeared that Cahill was taking more votes from the Republican candidate. Most recently, some polling numbers indicate that the race has again gotten a bit tighter with Patrick now ahead of Baker by just six or seven points, with Cahill trailing significantly behind, but easily drawing enough support to play the role of spoiler.

At this point, the race looks like another genuine tossup, in which the victor will win with a vote total several points under a majority. The presence of the Green-Rainbow Party nominee may even make the difference, but ultimately, Cahill's candidacy will tell the tale of who captures first place. If the incumbent Governor is unable to unite more Democrats behind him, much of that vote could wind up going to Cahill, and that would be a favorable formula for a Baker victory. If anti-Patrick voters decide they cannot vote for him, but prefer a non-Republican choose Cahill, the math will be more difficult for Baker to make up.

This could easily go either way, and people should pay particularly close attention to the debates, which are often a big part of Massachusetts statewide politics, but my hunch is that if the election were to be held today, Patrick would win reelection by a very small plurality simply because the state is still pretty liberal. A break or two could definitely put Baker in the catbird's seat, and there certainly were breaks a few months ago that tipped an even more difficult statewide election to the Republican candidate's favor.

If Patrick does hold on, some will claim it is political evidence of a racially trailblazing executive getting off to a rocky start in office, but rebounding politically in time to win reelection. The problem with such a test case theory would be that country as a whole might behave a bit different politically than Massachusetts.

Baker campaign link:

2010 Governor races predicted thus far: 5 D, 12 R
Predicted Gubernatorial totals thus far: 12 D, 18 R