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Election 2010

Patrick roars to 2d term

State Democrats sweep; sales tax cut voted down

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By Frank Phillips and Michael Levenson
Globe Staff / November 3, 2010

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Governor Deval Patrick defeated Republican rival Charles D. Baker yesterday to win a second term, a dramatic end to an election in which Democrats crushed hopes of a Republican resurgence in Massachusetts.

Patrick overcame a devastating recession and a high unemployment rate to convince voters that he was best equipped to lead the state toward economic recovery. His triumph was the cornerstone of a Democratic rout that set the state apart from the rest of the nation, which saw major Republican gains.

The state GOP, with its hopes raised of becoming a bigger force, failed to win a single one of the 10 congressional seats or any statewide offices, including open seats for state treasurer and state auditor.

A closely watched ballot question to slash the state sales tax rate was defeated, as was a measure to repeal the state’s affordable housing law. But a ballot question to erase the sales tax on alcohol won.

With 96 percent of precincts reporting, Patrick had 48.8 percent of the vote to Baker’s 41.7 percent. In his victory party at the Park Plaza in Boston, Patrick took the stage to cries of “Four more years!’’

“Well that’s exactly what we worked for, isn’t it?’’ he said to cheers, surrounded by his family.

“We go back to work in service of a brighter and better Commonwealth, a better future for those who voted for us and those who did not alike. We must be, all of us, about lifting the whole Commonwealth up, not tearing anyone down, and modeling for a nation hungry for something positive to believe in that we are, once again, the center, the leader for this country.’’

President Obama, a good friend and political ally of Patrick’s, called the governor to congratulate him.

Roughly two hours after the polls closed, Baker, flanked by his wife, Lauren, and three children, appeared before supporters who greeted him with cheers of “We love you, Charlie.’’ He conceded the race and said he hoped that Patrick would follow through on his pledge to implement some of Baker’s reform proposals.

“He won fair and square,’’ Baker told the crowd gathered at the House of Blues in Boston. “We fought the good fight, folks. We have no cause to hang our heads.’’

In a race that drew national attention, US Representative Barney Frank, a liberal icon and a target of conservatives across the country, more than survived a challenge from Republican Sean Bielat of Brookline. In the end, Frank beat Bielat handily in the Fourth District.

The Democrats also won four other congressional seats that had been targeted by Republicans. William R. Keating beat Republican Jeffrey D. Perry for the open 10th District seat. US Representatives Niki Tsongas of Lowell, James P. McGovern of Worcester, and John Tierney of Salem cruised to victory by comfortable margins.

In the contest for treasurer, Steve Grossman, a prodigious Democratic fund-raiser and Newton businessman, defeated Karyn E. Polito, a Republican state representative from Shrewsbury. In the race for auditor, former Democratic state representative Suzanne M. Bump of Great Barrington narrowly beat Republican Mary Z. Connaughton of Framingham.

The GOP picked up seats in the Legislature, knocking off several incumbents.

In the attorney general’s race, Martha Coakley, 10 months after she suffered a crushing defeat in a US Senate election, easily prevailed over her Republican opponent, James P. McKenna, to win a second term. Her victory revives a political career that had been severely damaged after Democrats blamed her for losing Edward M. Kennedy’s Senate seat to Republican Scott Brown.

Patrick’s victory came with the help of a strong Democratic ground game, to which the governor paid tribute in his speech last night. He rolled up wide margins in Democratic strongholds and liberal-leaning communities in an election that drew strong turnout statewide.

Baker, who the state GOP believed would lead a Republican revival up and down the ticket, was unable to win enough votes in GOP bastions to offset Patrick’s advantage.

Patrick’s win caps a long and hard-fought campaign that began in earnest nearly 18 months ago, when Baker and Timothy P. Cahill made the decision to run.

At the time, Patrick’s prospects for reelection appeared dim. Polls showed he had a very low standing with the public and his job-approval rating was far below the level typically needed by incumbent governors to get reelected. Democratic Party leaders were privately predicting that he could not win a second term.

But Patrick, one of the best campaigners in modern Massachusetts political history, hit the trail with full force, reviving his image, raising money, and putting himself back into contention. Because of the presence of Cahill, the state treasurer who ran as an independent, Baker never quite got the clean one-on-one contest with Patrick that Republicans wanted.

For decades, Baker and Patrick, who were only a class apart at Harvard, were hardly adversaries. They even broached the idea of a political partnership in 2005, when Patrick called Baker and suggested they run for governor and lieutenant governor on a bipartisan ticket. Baker rejected the idea, but shared breakfast with Patrick after his victory in 2006, served on Patrick’s transition team, and helped him tighten state ethics laws.

In deciding to challenge Patrick, in July 2009, Baker was fulfilling the hopes of many Massachusetts Republicans, who viewed him as an ideal candidate and the heir apparent to former governor William F. Weld’s blend of social liberalism and fiscally conservative views. As a hard-charging state budget chief and health and human services official under Weld and Paul Cellucci, Baker developed a reputation as a boy wonder, ambitious, smart, and possessed with a voracious appetite for policy.

Later, as chief executive of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, he was credited with helping to pull the company back from the brink of fiscal collapse.

As a candidate for governor, however, Baker struggled, especially in the early chapters of the campaign. He adopted the angry tone of the political season reflected in his motto, “Had enough?’’ but struggled to introduce himself to workaday voters. Beloved by GOP insiders, he suffered from low likeability ratings, particularly among women.

Democrats sought to paint him as wealthy and out of touch, mocking the $1.7 million salary he drew at Harvard Pilgrim while the company was increasing insurance premiums. Baker was also dogged by questions about his role in crafting a finance plan for the Big Dig that relied on heavy borrowing and modest toll increases, deferring the toughest decisions on tolls and taxes to future governors.

But many voters embraced the candidate’s message that Massachusetts needed to hold down spending and slash taxes.

“I really want to see some change, because I’m not happy with the way the economic situation is here,’’ said Donna Centamore, 58, a Republican who voted in Brockton. “I’m just really upset with the whole administration.’’

Patrick voters, however, credited the governor with helping to guide the state through economic straits without gutting services and strategic investments.

“We’re one of the better states in terms of education, life science, and unemployment,’’ said John Swenson, a 25-year-old who voted in South Boston, who added that he particularly liked Patrick’s style in debates.

Cahill, because of his experience running statewide and his $3 million war chest, showed unusual strength for an independent in early polls, often running ahead of Baker with Patrick holding the lead. But his candidacy collapsed after the Republican Governors Association targeted him with several million dollars worth of attack ads. GOP strategists were convinced he was drawing conservative votes that Baker needed to defeat Patrick.

Last night, Cahill captured about 8 percent of the vote, ahead of Green-Rainbow candidate Jill Stein, who received 1 percent. Cahill conceded the race at the Boston Marriott Copley Place, telling 300 supporters that “I accept that decision, although it’s hard for me because I hate to lose — God, I hate to lose.’’

“I believe this state is better because of the fight we’ve had,’’ Cahill said. ’’I don’t mean just us, I mean all the candidates.’’

Frank Phillips can be reached at phillips@globe.com; Levenson at mlevenson@globe.com.