Patrick, an Obama ally, to pitch re-election
President Barack Obama is reaching out to an old friend and fellow Democrat as he prepares for what could be a tough re-election campaign next year: Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.
In recent weeks, Patrick has hunkered down with top Democrats and Obama operatives including Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine and political adviser David Axelrod. Patrick is also forming his own national political action committee to pay for his campaign travels on behalf of the president and the national party.
One reason why Democrats are reaching out to Patrick? He was among the few in their party who ran a successful re-election campaign in 2010 in an otherwise hostile political climate.
Like Obama does, Patrick faced tough poll numbers and a slumping economy ahead of his campaign. Some election watchers predicted he might drop out, while Republicans felt the office was ripe for the picking.
But Patrick, the state’s first black governor, fought back with what Democrats thought were their top strengths: an upbeat message and superior organizing. Republican Scott Brown’s surprising U.S. Senate win earlier in the year also helped galvanize Democrats.
Now Patrick is preparing to take his story nationwide to sell voters on a second Obama term.
“We lead the nation in student achievement and health care coverage for our citizens and clean energy initiatives,” Patrick said. “This is a strategy about investing in ourselves and in our future that works in Massachusetts that the president is trying to drive on a national level.”
Patrick and Obama are both friends and political allies.
The two share Chicago roots and political advisers, including Axelrod and David Plouffe, both of whom helped Patrick win his first bid for office in 2006. After Obama attended a series of inaugural balls on his first day as president, Patrick was among those invited back to the White House at 2 a.m. for coffee and dessert.
The two also had time to chat last weekend.
Patrick attended a Friday meeting in Washington with other Democratic governors and Obama as part of the National Governor’s Association winter meeting. He also attended a Sunday night reception at the White House with the president and the first lady, followed by another meeting Monday of all governors and the president.
How high of a profile Patrick will have on the campaign trail is still being determined, though he appeared on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday as part of his Washington trip.
Obama is beginning to gear up for his re-election bid. Axelrod has left the White House to become Obama’s chief strategist in the campaign.
And the Democratic National Committee has selected Charlotte, N.C., for its 2012 convention, a signal that Obama will vie for the conservative-leaning states that helped him win the White House in 2008.
Not everyone sees Patrick’s story as a winner on the campaign trail.
Taxes have gone up under Patrick, said Massachusetts Republican Party Executive Director Nate Little. He also pointed to Patrick’s appearance at a recent pro-union rally and the administration’s decision to use tax dollars to support a solar energy company that ended up shipping jobs to China.
“The governor’s support for higher taxes, billion-dollar deficits and fealty to the public unions isn’t a story that’s going to play nationally,” he said. “It may play in liberal Massachusetts, but it’s not going to be well-received across the country.”
But Democrats are eager to get Patrick out on the hustings. They hope Patrick’s energetic oratory will help whip up the party’s base and defend Obama’s initiatives, including the national health care overhaul.
Kaine praised Patrick for “implementing a model health care system” and “investing in the jobs and industries of the future.” He said Patrick will be a valuable asset to help communicate the president’s message.
“Gov. Patrick has been at the forefront of numerous policy fights that Democrats believe in,” Kaine said. “He’s achieved remarkable results in Massachusetts and his message of optimism is one that resonates with Americans from all walks of life.”
Massachusetts Democratic Party John Walsh said one key to Patrick’s success was his decision not to run away from his record. He said Patrick acknowledged raising taxes and other revenues, but also said how those revenues were used.
That helped turn the tide in Patrick’s favor, he said.
“In the summer and in the early fall of last year, Republicans in Massachusetts and across the country were lining up a story that here is the president’s friend and he’s going down and that’s bad news for Obama,” Walsh said.
“The Republicans aren’t drawing those same comparisons today,” he added.
Patrick hit some rough patches during his first term, including self-inflicted gaffes like upgrading his state car to a $1,166-a-month Cadillac and buying pricey drapes for his office.
He also signed off on a state budget that included a hike in the state’s sales tax from 5 percent to 6.25 percent.
Patrick also enjoyed some electoral dynamics last year that may not be available to Obama, including the presence of an independent and third-party candidate who helped split the anti-incumbent vote and a relatively lackluster campaign by his main GOP challenger.
Patrick is sensitive to the charge of being an absentee governor. He’s promised not to take his eye off his day job, even as he stumps for Obama.
His predecessor, former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, was criticized for spending hundreds of days out of state as he geared up for his presidential run in 2008. Romney is among a shifting field of Republicans considering challenging Obama next year.
“It’s really up to the campaign,” Patrick said. “I’m going to do as much as they ask me to, consistent with my day job.”