By: Robert O’Koniewki – November, 2010
If one had paid the slightest bit of attention to the progression of the latest gubernatorial election one would not have been surprised that Democrat Deval Patrick topped Republican Charlie Baker to grab the governor’s office for another four years.
The result seemed to possess some shock to people whose enthusiasm got ahead of the reality. On paper and in person Mr. Baker appeared to be an excellent candidate – holder of an impressive resume, capable of articulating solutions to any number of issues plaguing the Commonwealth and her citizenry which the current administration has been unable to properly address. However, from a campaign perspective, the Baker team’s effort failed in several areas.
In basic terms, a layman must look at a political campaign as having four components – four pillars of a solid foundation, if you will. First, the candidate must properly introduce him or herself to the voting public. Second, the candidate must connect with the voters on several key issues – displaying, with a certain level of sincere empathy, a working knowledge of what is affecting the voters and a fix to those problems. Third, as the election nears the home stretch, the candidate must close the deal with the voters. And fourth, the candidate’s team must have an adequate get-out-the-vote (GOTV) effort, centered around identifying voters who will go to the polls for that candidate and then getting them out on Election Day.
In all four areas, the Baker campaign came up short to some degree, especially when he had to contend not only with a sitting governor with poor job ratings but positive personal likeability but also an “independent” candidate, who was a sitting state treasurer who switched out of the Democratic Party and expressed many of the same positions on issues as Mr. Baker, a regular Mr. Me-Too or Baker-Lite. In a way, Mr. Baker was never able to break away from the drag of the Cahill anchor. Mr. Baker needed a head-to-head shot against the governor, and he never got this opportunity.
From the time Mr. Baker announced his candidacy in the Summer of 2009 through to the Spring of this year, the Baker campaign did very little to successfully introduce “Baker the Person” to the voters. There was considerable presence by Baker regarding issues like taxes, jobs, health care, and other key issues, but there was no real articulation of who and what Charlie Baker is. While many people gravitated to him based on the issues, people who pay scant attention to the political process and the issues really had nothing to sink their teeth into that would have them gravitate to him because “he seems to be like me and care about the things I care about.” The Baker camp got the low hanging fruit and really did not expand beyond that because people really never got to know Baker the person. This at a time when, throughout the campaign, at least 60% of likely voters had a positive personal view of the governor as a likeable guy.
On the issues, Mr. Baker did really well on those things he wanted to talk about and what he wanted to do. On jobs, taxes, and spending he outperformed the governor in the polling on those issues. However, he never really aggressively took the fight to Mr. Patrick on issues that the Democratic governor was weak – job creation, fiscal chaos, state spending on illegal aliens, just to name a few. The Baker camp needed to attack the governor openly and relentlessly, and this never happened to the degree the situation demanded. Regardless of what some people say, negative campaigning works; otherwise, it would never be used. But it can be done in a way that is respectful, aggressive, and truthful to paint one’s opponent in a bad light, and the Baker campaign never did this. At a time when over 50% of the likely voters had a negative opinion of the governor’s job performance and over 50% felt the state was going in the wrong direction, Baker needed to pound this point home. He tried, but it came too little too late. Fortunately for the governor, he did not. Mr. Baker still managed to hold Mr. Patrick to only 48% of the vote.
Three weeks out from Election Day, various polls showed that almost 20% of the likely voters still had no opinion of or did not know Charlie Baker. That is an incredible number given all the millions that were spent and is a direct correlation to part one above regarding an introduction to the voters. When one out of five voters does not know you, it is difficult to close the deal on a successful outcome on Election Day.
Finally, much has been written already about the extraordinary efforts the Democratic Party undertook, ramped up two to three weeks out, to combine the efforts of all the statewide and congressional candidates, identify their voters and get those voters to the polls – a complete top to bottom team effort. It was an impressive operation, and in heavily Democratic Lawrence we saw it first hand throughout that time period. On the other side, the Baker team had a fraction of the effort, volunteer numbers, and Election Day enthusiasm. As Election Day played out, the Democratic GOTV effort enabled their candidates to nail down solid victories from top to bottom. When you look at the final statewide numbers, Mr. Patrick, while getting 48% of the vote, pulled in almost 70,000 more votes than Martha Coakley did in the January special Senatorial election when she lost to Scott Brown. However, Baker underperformed to Brown by around 200,000 votes, which coincidentally was almost the Cahill tally. Even if Patrick hit only the Coakley number he still would have outpolled Baker.
Further, where the Democratic GOTV effort really paid off was in those other constitutional officer elections and congressional races where the GOP candidates had no answer to the swarm of Democratic volunteers making phone calls and going door to door that delivered victory on Election Day. It was a difference of 40,000 votes in the state auditor election, and 24,000, 28,000, and 13,000 in the Frank-Bielat, Tsongas-Golnik, and Keating-Perry races, respectively. In the end, the necessary foundation for the Baker campaign was not strong enough to sustain victory – a lesson Scott Brown can learn from for his 2012 re-election bid.