BOSTON -- Barack Obama was in the Bay State this Saturday campaigning for his old friend Deval Patrick. At one point, the nation's first African American president gave the state’s first African American governor a quick hug. Then they stood, arms wrapped around each other, waving to the crowd.
The two have long been close friends and political allies. But a WGBH poll of the 10th Congressional District shows that some voters view the two very differently. The poll showed Gov. Patrick to have a favorability rating of 44 percent -- while Obama garnered a much higher rating of 56 percent. The governor may be hoping that Obama's higher favorability will help him out in a tight race -- and Obama, in turn, may be watching Patrick's campaign for re-election as a harbinger of what could be in store for him in 2012.
Obama and Patrick first met in Chicago, when Obama was a community organizer and Patrick was working for the Department of Justice under President Clinton. The two have campaigned in support of each other countless times over the years -- and even shared the same campaign advisers.
"Both Obama’s senior advisor, David Axelrod, and his campaign manager from 2008, David Plouffe, had a role in the 2006 campaign, sort of as a trial run in for the President to see how the message would resonate with voters. It worked in Massachusetts in ‘06 and for Obama in ‘08," explained Matt Murphy of the State House News Service.
That campaign message was one of hope and change. At the Massachusetts Democratic Convention in 2006, then-candidate Deval Patrick appeared the embodiment of optimism. “Take a chance on hope. Take a chance on hope. That is the lesson of our party. That is the lesson of the Commonwealth. And that is the lesson of my own life,” Patrick said.
Two years later, Obama gave his victory speech after winning the Iowa Caucuses. “You’ll look back and you’ll say this is the moment. This is moment when America remembered what it means to hope… Hope! Hope is what led me here today," Obama said.
That message energized the Democratic base, wooed independents and inspired first-time voters to go to the polls. "They were able to mobilize people that were not voting before – young voters, voters that had grown disenchanted with the system and that again had faith in government," Murphy said. "And those were the people that carried both men into office."
Two to four years after Obama and Patrick took office, they're facing blame for unemployment and for not being able to produce enough jobs -- and some people who voted for hope are no longer seeing cause for it. "Experts now wonder if they’ll show up to vote at all in November because of the situation with the economy, jobs and people being disillusioned with government at the moment,” Murphy said.
Regina, from Quincy, is one of those core supporters now feeling less excitement about the two candidates. “I voted for President Obama. I was very very hopeful. I am somewhat disillusioned. Deval Patrick? Um… again, a little bit of disappointment,” Regina said.
Both the Governor and the President have seen their poll numbers drop -- but, as the WGBH poll found, Obama's favorability rating is still higher than Patrick's. Jeffrey Berry, a professor of Political Science at Tufts University, doesn’t find the discrepancy all that surprising. “The lower approval ratings for Patrick, I think would reflect the more immediacy of the problems we have here in Massachusetts and people feeling like our economy needs to improve and finding him more accountable than Obama,” Berry said, explaining average voters tend to blame the governor for economic problems at home before they’ll blame the president.
Berry also says that voters might be willing to cut Obama some more slack because he’s only been in office for two years. "There may be a sense for Patrick that he’s had enough time to turn things around, whereas some people may feel that for Obama, coming in the teeth of the recession, might deserve a little more time before we throw him out,” Berry said.
If Patrick loses, it could be a sign that Obama himself will be in trouble in 2012. But if Patrick wins -- despite a lingering recession and a well-funded and well-motivated opposition, it will give Obama little reason to change and more reason to hope.
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