If I Were Advising Deval Patrick

With the gubernatorial election just over 10 months away and with approval ratings that are pretty much in the dumpster, Governor Patrick can use all the help he can get. For those readers not up to date on the current field, there are two Republican candidates and one independent (former Democrat) vying for the opportunity to unseat the incumbent governor.

First, on the Republican side, are Christy Mihos, a former independent candidate for governor, and Charlie Baker, a former cabinet secretary in the Weld and Cellucci administrations and former CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare. Mihos does not offer too many specifics on his website, but the picture it does paint is of a somewhat conservative Republican, particularly on social issues. He favors opt-in for sex education and opposes the use of embryonic stem cells, for example. Mihos has also called for the state to guarantee 40% of its revenues to cities and towns.

Charlie Baker is what is known here as a Weld Republican. It’s essentially our version of the old Rockefeller Republicans- fiscally conservative, socially tolerant. As I have written before, Baker selected an openly gay state senator to serve as his running mate. Similar to Mihos, Baker has called for a change to local aid, such that a defined share of state taxes would be set aside for local aid (unlike Mihos, he does not peg a certain percentage). Baker also calls for the repeal of this year’s sales tax increase, but couples that with support for closing the educational achievement gap and tweaking the state’s health reform efforts (including forcing providers to make public their rates). Socially divisive issues like abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research are absent from Baker’s website.

The independent in the race is former Democrat, and current state treasurer, Tim Cahill. As of yet, Cahill has taken no specific positions (at least as represented on his website) other than arguing (correctly, I might add) that local aid needs to be on the table when discussing budget cuts. Otherwise, all Cahill offers is boilerplate language about being a fiscal conservative and being opposed to tax increases.

Now that is out of the way…. here is the advice I would give to the Governor.

  1. Ignore Tim Cahill entirely. He will be a non-factor in the general, except to siphon off some anti-incumbent votes from the GOP nominee. Also, his position on local aid, though right, is political suicide. Cutting local aid is akin to being opposed to apple pie and motherhood.
  2. Begin campaigning against Baker, but keep it at least somewhat below the surface. Baker is the prohibitive favorite on the GOP side. He has the pedigree and the political moderation to actually win in a blue state like Massachusetts.
  3. Also, the right messaging early on could help to expose fissures in the GOP. For example- focus on tying Baker to the national GOP, who are probably the only group of folks less popular in MA right now than the Governor. This presents Baker with a choice- distance himself from the Party or owning some of the insanity. It’s a win for Patrick either way. If Baker distances himself, he risks fomenting a teabagger uprising (yes, they really do exist even here) that would drive support to Mihos and force Baker into a much more difficult September primary than he has planned. If, on the other hand, Baker fails to distance himself from the national party, the opportunities to tie the GOP around his neck are endless, especially in a blue state like MA.
  4. Ignore Mihos. He has next to no chance of being the eventual GOP nominee. Plus, any messaging that weakens Mihos makes Baker’s path to November much easier.

I am under no illusions that the Governor will actually consider my advice. Not only has he proven remarkably inept at governing, but (notwithstanding 2006) he is an amazingly poor politician. Clearly no state executive is going to be the most popular person in the state during a fiscal crisis, but Governor Patrick has made more than his fair share of optical missteps as well as tactical errors. His one saving grace may just be that he’s not a Republican.

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