Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Patrick '10 = Obama '12?

TNR offers a potential view into White House thinking for 2012:

Of all the historical analogies urged on Obama following November’s drubbing—Truman in ’48, Reagan after ’82, Clinton after ’94—the one the White House has opted for is easily the most obscure. That would be Patrick in ’10—as in Deval Patrick, the recently re-elected governor of Massachusetts. Months after Patrick signed the state’s first sales-tax hike in 33 years, political chatterers gave him little chance of surviving to a second term. Not only did he face the same foul, anti-incumbent mood that elected Scott Brown, he’d drawn an attractive GOP candidate in businessman Charlie Baker.

Patrick’s handlers recommended that he distance himself from liberals in the state legislature—and, above all, downplay the tax increase. The governor overruled them...[R]ecalls one still-traumatized adviser[,] “He thought the way to do it was to be true to what he ran on [in 2006]”—the belief that voters will support someone who levels with them, even if they don’t love every decision. In the end, Patrick and his “politics of conviction” won by a comfortable seven-point margin.

It’s not hard to see the appeal of this narrative in Obamaland, whose principal also fancies himself a teller of hard truths.

Jim Geraghty offers some incisive criticisms of this model:
1) Who’s going to be your Tim Cahill? This article doesn’t mention that Patrick won 48 percent of the vote in heavily-Democrat Massachusetts. Patrick won because the anti-incumbent vote was split by Cahill, who won the 2006 treasurer’s election as a Democrat, served for a while under Patrick, and then rebelled, changing his party to “unenrolled” (equivalent to “independent” in Massachusetts) so he could challenge Patrick. Despite Charlie Baker and the RGA spending enormous resources to try to drive him out, Cahill won 8 percent on Election Day. (A detailed analysis of Cahill’s spoiler role can be found here.)

2) You can only alienate so many supporters before you’re doomed. Deval Patrick’s share of the vote in 2010 was 7 percentage points lower than his share in 2006. If Obama sees similar proportional erosion, he’ll be trying to win the presidency with 46 percent of the vote.

3) Guys, it’s Massachusetts. Any Democrat who does not mock Red Sox fans has a much larger margin for error and cushion than a Democrat running nationally.

4) The economy in 2012 remains an X factor, but it’s worth remembering unemployment rate in Massachusetts was 8.4 percent in September and 8.1 percent in October – not all that good, but almost 2 points better than the national average...
I think #1 and #2 are the most problematic for the White House. Patrick did not gain a majority in 2010, and he started from a much stronger place in November 2006 than Obama does from November 2008.

There are a few other problems for this model. Though TNR talks up the attractiveness of GOP candidate Charlie Baker, he didn't exactly ignite a fire under Massachusetts Republican activists; indeed, operatives of some other Massachusetts Republican campaigns would even privately lament the GOP gubernatorial ticket in the run-up to the election. Baker was no Mitt Romney, who generated a significant amount of excitement among Bay State Republican activists. This could serve as a warning to the GOP in 2012: if Republicans nominate a candidate incapable of inspiring enthusiasm and unable to articulate a clear vision, Obama could end up winning reelection.

Also, Obama's record is significantly different from Patrick's. While voters may not have been happy with Patrick's sales tax increase, that measure pales in comparison to the radical legislation passed over the past few years. Considering the rapidly accumulating number of broken promises about Obamacare, one might wonder whether the aftershocks of Obama's health-care legislation would render the image of a "straight-talking" president a little bit of a stretch.

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