Decision 2010: Bay State voters choose between “generational responsibility” and limited government

By Sam Butterfield

After months of fierce campaigning, millions of dollars in advertising, and one of the most intriguing, contested governor’s races in recent memory, it all comes down to Tuesday. Today, the people of Massachusetts will decide who will serve as their next governor, and on the eve of the election, it appears that the four-way race has come down to two frontrunners, Democratic incumbent Deval Patrick and Republican challenger Charlie Baker.

In appearances across the state over the last week, the two campaigns have sought to distinguish and solidify their messages.

Patrick and his team have sounded a tune of “generational responsibility,” arguing that it is his generation’s obligation to help turn the Commonwealth around and leave the economy, environment and world at large better than they found it. Baker, for his part, has staked his campaign’s bets on two themes playing out across the country this season: jobs and the economy, and a staunch anti-incumbent sentiment.

As volunteers mobilize to get out the vote for the campaigns and to help staff precincts scattered across the Bay State, recent polls have indicated that Gov. Patrick holds a slight edge, but that several other variables throw into question just how certain a second Patrick term is.

Independent Timothy Cahill, the state treasurer, continues to draw between 7 and 10 percent of polls conducted by numerous agencies, including the Boston Globe and Suffolk University. According to several analysts, most Cahill supporters’ second choice would be Baker, and if these core Cahill-backers decide at the last minute that a Cahill vote is less relevant than one for Baker, this could seriously impact tomorrow’s results.

David Paleologos, the director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, said just how well Cahill and Green-Rainbow Party candidate Jill Stein perform will be key in deciding the election’s outcome.

“The question is what is Cahill going to end up with and what is Stein going to end up with,” he said. “Past polls show Cahill and Stein combining to about 9 percent.”

Ralph Whitehead, a journalism professor at the University of Massachusetts and expert on the American political system, said Cahill’s voters have detracted from what was likely a sure-fire Baker victory.

“Six months ago, Charlie Baker looked like he was headed for the Governorship,” he said. “Tim Cahill has managed to hold on to a share of the likely electorate that is small, but comes chiefly out of Baker’s potential share of the vote, rather than Patrick’s.”

Recent polls all have come to different conclusions, making it especially difficult to predict how voters will think tomorrow. An Oct. 29 poll from Rasmussen Reports of 750 Massachusetts voters gave Patrick 46 percent of Tuesday’s likely voters to Baker’s 44 percent, while a Suffolk University/7 News Boston survey conducted last week gave Patrick a heartier margin, placing him at 46 percent to just 39 percent for Baker, with nine percent behind Cahill and two percent for Stein. A third poll, released Oct. 24 by the Globe, put Patrick ahead 43 to 39 percent, while Cahill drew 8 percent and Stein held at two.

For their parts, the candidates are tuning out the polls and focusing the campaign’s final days on a term familiar to all of them “GOTV,” or ‘get out the vote.’

“The goal over the last four days is all about getting out the vote,” said Patrick spokesman Alex Goldstein. “We’ve turned from voter identification to get out the vote efforts.”

As for what that entails, Goldstein rattled off the typical index of last-minute steps political bodies employ to bolster support.

“It’s a combination of going door-to-door, phone banking, and generating volunteers,” he said. “We are looking to have at least 20,000 volunteers who are working the weekend, before and on election day, and those folks are going to be in every single neighborhood in the Commonwealth knocking on doors, making sure people go to vote.”

Regardless of what the pollsters have to say, the campaigns are focused on getting as many people to the polls as possible, and earning their votes.

“The polls kind of go all over the place,” said Goldstein. “We’ve seen all kinds of polls over the course of this campaign, and they’ve never changed our focus…The only poll that really matters is the poll on election day.”

Rick Gorka, a spokesman for the Baker campaign reached by phone in Boston on Sunday, said the former Harvard Pilgrim health care CEO’s campaign is also mobilizing to rally its supporters.

“We have a tremendous amount of volunteers spread across the Commonwealth in a bunch of different offices making calls, identifying voters and encouraging everybody to get out to the polls,” he said.

One thing all four campaigns seem focused on is their plans for creating jobs and stimulating the economy.

“Jobs is the issue of greatest concerns to voters,” Goldstein pointed out. “Massachusetts has created 40,500 private sector jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and that’s hopeful news, certainly for those who have jobs, but we know there’re still folks out of work who need a better way, and that’s what a second term is about,” he said.

Gorka said job growth has always been Baker’s trade.

“The biggest issues facing this campaign have been the same for the last 15 months,” he said, “it’s all about jobs, taxes and spending; creating jobs and cutting taxes and getting Massachusetts back to work.”

While Cahill’s campaign did not return numerous requests for comment, Stein, the Green-Rainbow nominee, was quite explicit regarding her plans for job creation in the Commonwealth.

Stein said she would take funds currently used for commercial and residential development and put them into a “revolving loan fund so that we can start up jobs in the many areas of the green economy that basically pay for themselves while they strengthen the economy.”

Such jobs, she continued, include “jobs in green innovation, in the sustainable healthy food economy, in remanufacturing and clean manufacturing,” among others.

“[Green jobs] are going to grow like gangbusters,” she said. “That’s where we can create easily 50,000 jobs in every community around the Commonwealth.”

Other than jobs, both major candidates and the other two campaigns have stressed that this election ultimately comes down to a question of political philosophy.

“The Governor clearly believes that all the folks in this race are good people, but when it comes down to their values, they have a different set of values, and the Governor believes that government has a role to play in helping people help themselves,” explained Goldstein.

Gorka, Baker’s representative, honed in on another distinction between the two leading candidates.

“The biggest difference is Charlie Baker is not going to raise taxes,” he said, “he’s not going to continually raise spending.

“The overarching theme is that if you’re happy with the way Massachusetts is being run and happy with the direction of the state, then vote for Governor Patrick; if you think that Massachusetts can be doing better, then you have to vote for Charlie Baker.”

The polls show Gorka’s logic may hold some weight.

According to the last Globe survey, Patrick’s job approval rating is just 44 percent, and 55 percent of likely voters said they believe the state is heading in the wrong direction, compared to just 39 percent who said it is headed the right way.

Paleologos said that while he foresees Patrick edging Baker out, a number of scenarios could change that prediction.

“If that 45-46 percent [supporting Patrick] doesn’t show up on Tuesday, that’s certainly going to impact the race,” he said. “[Patrick] is in a better position than Baker going into Tuesday.”

Paleologos said that while the Patrick campaigned has championed his administration’s record on job growth, disillusionment with the state of the economy could tip the election Baker’s way.

“Ironically, it’s probably jobs and the economy,” he said of why Baker could win. “Patrick is trying to sell his approach in that the state doesn’t have all bad news and that there are some kernels of hope, and Baker is basically framing the last days as if it’s a referendum on right track vs. wrong track, and whether or not Deval Patrick has fulfilled the promises he made when he came into office, and however that shakes itself out is probably what will happen.”

Whitehead pointed to the Cahill quotient as essential to Tuesday’s outcome and said that, if Patrick wins, he feels voters will have decided his administration handled the recession aptly. If Baker wins, Whitehead said he would attribute the victory to the national wave of frustration with incumbents.

“If Patrick wins, it will be because a lot of voters conclude that he helped to spare enough of them from a full dose of the ravages of the Great Recession and also because a lot of them didn’t take a shine to Baker as a person. If Baker wins, it will probably be because the national wave will have hit the state just hard enough.”

While these dynamics have certainly in large shaped the race, Whitehead cautioned that the more complex nature of the four-way race means that, even up to the race’s final minutes, much could change.

“If you have a situation like this election…the major-party candidates are neck-and-neck, their respective shares of the likely vote are a lot higher than the Independent’s share – the Independent’s share of the vote can dwindle to almost nothing on the eve of the election,” said Whitehead. “If that happens in this election, the bulk of the voters who would leave Cahill at the 11th hour will probably go to Baker.”

Whatever the outcome, polls open across the state at 7 a.m. tomorrow and close at 8 p.m.

Sam Butterfield can be reached at [email protected].