BOSTON—As the number of undecided voters dwindles in the Massachusetts gubernatorial race, President Barack Obama is coming to town Saturday to try to energize turnout on behalf of his friend and fellow Democrat, Gov. Deval Patrick.
What Obama wants to avoid is a repeat of his last-minute visit in January, when he failed to secure a win for Democrat Martha Coakley in the special election to succeed the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
Patrick and the president share not only Chicago roots and a Harvard Law degree, but also a political consulting team led by Obama campaign manager David Plouffe. The similarities have some analysts viewing the Massachusetts race as a bellwether for the president's 2012 re-election prospects.
"Deval Patrick set the template for the Obama campaign," said Marc Landy, a Boston College political science professor. "What worked for Deval Patrick in 2006, they basically used it as their CliffsNotes for winning in 2008. And now, if it works again, it will boost Obama's self-confidence."
Patrick sounded as if he were speaking for Obama when he was asked earlier this week whether he really wanted the president campaigning for him with lagging job approval numbers. A Suffolk University/WHDH-TV poll this week showed 44 percent of Massachusetts voters had an unfavorable view of Obama, up from 38 percent in a similar survey in September.
Among independents, the majority of voters in the state, the view was even worse: 56 percent had an unfavorable view, up from 44 percent in September.
"The national economy and state economy are recovering -- but not recovered," said Patrick. "We've got more work to do. And I think that the voters are entitled to have candidates be candid with them and honest with them about where we are and where we are going."
Turning to his leading gubernatorial rivals, Republican Charles Baker and independent Timothy Cahill, the governor added: "None of the other candidates have a plan; what they have are talking points and soundbites and slogans, and that's not a way to solve a problem."
Baker, Patrick's leading re-election opponent, dismissed the visit.
"It's no secret that the governor and the president share a governing philosophy, and they've certainly been friends for a long time, and I think their governing philosophy -- which means more spending and higher taxes and fewer jobs -- is bad for the country and bad for the state," he said.
Obama, then an Illinois senator, campaigned for Patrick twice during his first gubernatorial campaign in 2006. Patrick returned the favor in 2007, when he endorsed Obama for president during a rally on Boston Common.
Patrick ended up attending Obama's inauguration, and after the evening's balls, the governor and his wife, Diane, were invited back to the White House for coffee and dessert.
Obama was in Massachusetts in October 2009 to visit MIT, talk about energy policy and attend a Patrick fundraiser, and he and his family vacationed on Martha's Vineyard both in 2009 and again this past summer.
Obama most recently stumped for Patrick in Massachusetts in April, when he attended fundraisers for him and the Democratic National Committee in Boston.
"I want you to realize that you've got a tremendous leader in Deval Patrick. In what is an extraordinarily tough time to be a governor, he has moved forward -- not on the easy issues, but on the tough issues," the president said then. "He's the governor that's going to keep leading Massachusetts into the future."
Patrick said nearly 10,000 people have said they want to attend Saturday's rally at the Hynes Convention Center, even though it has a capacity of just 7,000. Singer James Taylor will warm up the crowd, before the governor and president speak. The event will be preceded by a fundraiser.
Landy, the Boston College professor, said the visit is low-risk for Patrick.
"People have decided pretty much decided who they're going to vote for, and now it's a question of turnout," he said. "That doesn't mean it's going to work. (Voters) don't really think about the governor's race in terms of the president."