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CAMPAIGN 2010 | GOVERNOR’S RACE

Candidates picking their spots

In final push, Patrick, Baker focus on core constituencies

By Noah Bierman and Michael Levenson
Globe Staff / October 29, 2010

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Between riveting battles over municipal health care and regulatory policy, the front-runners in the governor’s race had another score to settle recently: Does Charles D. Baker really have a campaign office at 555 South Canal St. in Holyoke?

Governor Deval Patrick’s aides, who cast doubt on Baker’s commitment to Western Massachusetts, insisted it did not exist and labeled it the “phantom campaign office.’’ Baker’s aides said that it did and that it had been “pretty active’’ since January. The fight got so hot that a local TV news crew demanded a tour.

They were denied. But by filming through a window grate, they revealed a folded-up table and little else.

The Holyoke field office imbroglio reveals a truth about the candidates. Both want to create the perception that they are competing for votes in every corner of Massachusetts, but with only so much time to shake hands, visit diners, and march in parades, they lavish some areas with special attention while all but ignoring others.

Baker, according to a Globe tally of campaign visits since the spring, has focused his attention on Upper Cape Cod, the South Shore, and along Interstate 495, areas that helped fuel US Senator Scott Brown’s victory in January and, Baker aides say, will be key to their candidate winning on Tuesday.

Baker has also ventured repeatedly into the traditional Democratic strongholds of Worcester and Lowell, hoping to make inroads there, but has made few visits west of Worcester, where Patrick has a second home and has been particularly visible as governor.

The governor has largely avoided many of the conservative towns surrounding Worcester, where Baker has been active. Instead, the governor has hit the trail in liberal enclaves such as Cambridge, blue-collar cities such as New Bedford and Fall River, and Western Massachusetts, where he has campaigned often in Pittsfield and Springfield, and in tiny hamlets.

Just yesterday, with a mere five days remaining in his close race with Baker, Patrick campaigned in Chicopee, Amherst, and Heath, a town near the Vermont border, where he held a small forum in a schoolhouse, fighting for the support of every one of its 513 registered voters.

The Globe tallied each of the candidates’ public appearances from April 1 to last week. For Patrick, the review included his campaign and official schedules, except for bill signings, swearing-in ceremonies, Cabinet meetings, and State House events completely unrelated to the campaign.

The candidates’ geographic priorities, beyond Boston, where both often hold events to generate media attention, highlight their different core constituencies.

Baker has campaigned heavily in the vote-rich suburbs and exurbs of Boston. By last week, he had made four visits each to Marlborough and North Attleborough, for example, areas that Brown dominated and that Mitt Romney carried in his 2002 victory over Democrat Shannon O’Brien.

Baker had also made 11 trips to Worcester, nine to Lowell, and six to Brockton, Democrat-leaning cities where he believes he must be competitive, at the very least, if he is to win on Tuesday. Brown won Lowell and many communities around both Worcester and Brockton.

Last Saturday, Baker’s suburban strategy was on full display as he held what may have been his most enthusiastic rally, with an overflow crowd in Melrose Memorial Hall with Governor Christopher J. Christie of New Jersey. Many in the crowd knew Baker’s running mate, Senate minority leader Richard R. Tisei, who is from Wakefield.

“He connects to the people of the suburbs here,’’ said Dick Phipps, a 67-year-old investor from Wakefield who was at the rally.

Patrick, who easily won the state’s 10 biggest cities in the 2006 governor’s race, is working again to roll up big margins in urban areas. He had made 25 trips to Worcester, where his running mate is the former mayor, 13 to Springfield, and a combined 20 trips to Fall River and New Bedford, where he has promised to build a rail line and won a combined 70 percent of the vote in 2006.

He has also boasted of his commitment to Western Massachusetts, where the sparse population means Patrick will need a strong turnout to make a difference statewide. He had made six trips to Pittsfield, five to Chicopee, and four to Holyoke.

“I think Western Massachusetts is worth fighting for, too, by the way, and every other candidate in this race, as far as I can tell and you can tell, has written you off,’’ Patrick told a crowd of about 70 yesterday at a rally at the University of Massachusetts Amherst student union.

Baker disputed that charge during a campaign stop in Springfield earlier this month. “Look, I’ve been all over Massachusetts,’’ he said. “And the folks in many cases who I think have suffered the most under the Patrick administration are the folks in Western Massachusetts.’’

Both candidates are planning bus tours this weekend in an attempt to make a final pitch to key communities. Baker’s tour includes stops in Foxborough, Natick, Worcester, Springfield, Chelmsford, Haverhill, and Beverly. Patrick’s stops, on a longer tour, include Brockton, Lawrence, Fall River, Worcester, and New Bedford — twice.

Lost in the geopolitical strategies are some of the state’s tiniest towns.

“I’ve lived here almost 28 years, and I’ve never seen a governor or a governor’s candidate here,’’ said Ellen B. Miller, town coordinator in Rowe, a northwestern hill town with 300 voters. “We’re kind of off the beaten path, and we’re not complaining about it. I’ve never heard anybody say, ‘Where are they?’ ’’

But in Sandisfield, Barbara Colorio has been asking just that. The 49-year-old innkeeper has written letters to the candidates asking them what they can do to help the area’s distressed economy, with no response. Despite Sandisfield’s small population — 726 residents nestled in the southern Berkshires — Colorio says there is real political opportunity there, if someone were to seize it.

“Last time we had a vote here, it was a pretty good turnout,’’ she said. “I’d say more than half.’’

Stephanie Ebbert of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Bierman can be reached at nbierman@globe.com; Levenson at mlevenson@globe.com.