President Barack Obama, on a whirlwind visit to Boston today, linked Governor Deval Patrick's political fate in next year's election to the fate of the nation, telling Patrick supporters at a downtown fund-raiser that the governor had made the kind of hard choices the country needs to make to put itself on a stronger course.
Obama, who swept into town for the fund-raiser and to deliver a speech promoting clean energy at MIT, said Patrick should get credit for implementing universal health care, investing in education, and making a priority of the alternative energy and biotech industries. If voters fail to recognize this hard work in the election, the president said, it will not bode well for the country.
The fundraiser demonstrated one of Patrick’s key advantages in what is expected to be a difficult reelection campaign: having the president of the United States, a close personal friend and political soul mate, deliver eloquent praise for you and your political agenda. Patrick aides said the fund-raiser would bring in more than $600,000 for him; his running mate, Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray; and the Massachusetts Democratic party.
“Since Deval took office he has performed extraordinary things under extraordinarily difficult circumstances,” Obama said. “There’s not a tougher time to be governor than right now”
Several audience members shouted out, “Or President!”
“And yet, without losing his cool, losing that steady inner calm that he has, Deval has gone about the business,” Obama said, ticking off several items of Patrick’s term, including ethics reform, clean energy efforts, and transportation reform.
In a larger ballroom, at an event that cost donors $500 to attend, Patrick launched into a fiery campaign speech, one similar to the one that got him elected three years ago.
Obama also said Patrick, like himself, is forced to make a difficult political argument -- that things would be even worse if he weren't in power.
“It’s a lot easier to be irresponsible,” Obama said. “It’s a lot easier to push off tough decisions. It’s a lot easier to say, 'Let’s just manage the status quo as best we can and spend a lot of time pointing fingers and blaming others for why we’re not getting things done.'”
Obama also highlighted some of the differences between running on a message of hope and change, as he and Patrick both did, and then accomplishing things while in office.
The message had particular resonance coming from a president who is dealing with lower poll numbers and bumping up against congressional resistance to his agenda in Washington that mirrors some of the challenges Patrick has faced on Beacon Hill.
“Campaigning before you're governor is always easy,” Obama said. “Because everybody projects onto you whatever they think should happen. Governance -- that involves detail. That involves making tough choices. That involves inheriting tough problems and having to grapple with them. Governing means that you have to prioritize, and you also begin to recognize that transformation doesn’t happen overnight.”
Patrick, a first-term governor, faces challenges for his seat from Republicans Charlie Baker and Christy Mihos and Treasurer Timothy Cahill, who is running as an independent, at a time when the stumbling economy has forced him to make sharp cuts in the state budget.
At MIT, Obama said he wanted the United States to be the world leader in alternative energy. "Even in the darkest of times, this nation ... has always sought a brighter horizon," he said, adding, "The nation that wins this competition will be the nation that leads the global economy. I'm convinced of that. I want America to be that nation. It's that simple."
Air Force One had touched down at Logan International Airport at 11:27 a.m. on a windy, overcast day. Stepping off the plane, Obama, who was accompanied by Massachusetts Senator John F. Kerry, gave Patrick a huge grin, a handshake, and a big hug. The men stood together for about a minute and exchanged pleasantries that could not be heard over the airplane engines.
Other officials who came to Logan to greet the president included Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Lieutenant Governor Murray.
"It's a big deal for the Commonwealth," Patrick said. "It’s a big deal for the campaign.''
As Obama's motorcade rolled to MIT, people stopped on the Esplanade and on street corners and snapped photos and pointed fingers. One person held a sign, saying, "Save Our Earth."
Before his speech, Patrick and Kerry looked on as Obama toured a lab with MIT President Susan Hockfield. Two professors demonstrated a high-power battery that can actually be grown, using a biological process, rather than made. Another professor showcased wind turbines, and a third showed off light bulbs that can last 5,000 hours.
A few thousand people gathered on Massachusetts Avenue near MIT, lining up peacefully behind security barricades, hoping for a glimpse of the charismatic president but ultimately not succeeding.
The crowd was dominated by young, college-age people. Some held signs promoting clean energy. A few held signs protesting some of the president's policies.
Lauren Kuntz, 19, an undecided freshman from Pittsburgh, watched the speech from her laptop and said, “This is really an exciting time for the school, it says a lot about MIT that he would choose to come here. This school is a leader in the energy debate and his presence here reflects that.”
Erin Ailworth, Brian R. Ballou, Andrew Ryan, and Martin Finucane of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
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