To Republicans, Deval L. Patrick is the opponent from central casting, an unalloyed liberal Democrat with vulnerabilities of the kind they love to exploit. But to his admirers, Patrick's convictions are his armor, representing a clean break from the calibrations of poll-tested posturing that now drive most political campaigns.
``He says what he thinks, and we love it," said Rob Gray , a strategist for Kerry Healey, the Republican lieutenant governor who will try to extend her party's 16-year hold on the governor's office in November.
``You couldn't ask for starker, clearer differences between two candidates on fiscal issues, crime issues, and immigration than there are between Kerry Healey and Deval Patrick," Gray said, previewing themes Healey's campaign will try to pound home.
John Walsh, Patrick's campaign manager, said his candidate's lack of artifice is what voters want. ``They are looking for change, not the same old, same old" that Healey represents, Walsh said. Patrick is the outsider in the race with a much superior resume, featuring experience in the fields of business, government, and nonprofits, he said.
Patrick's victory last night sets up a general election race that could draw national attention. For all the hype about Massachusetts being a liberal state, voters have never elected an African-American or a woman as governor.
The race pits Healey, who has been Governor Mitt Romney's number two for four years, against Patrick, who has never held elective office, but who built his campaign from the grass roots up, with a massive field organization that flooded the state in the campaign's final days.
Despite Democrats' 3-to-1 advantage in party registration, independent voters make up half the electorate and hold the balance of power. Patrick will try to appeal to them with his message of change; Healey will argue that his idea of change would make things worse.
Patrick's campaign, which set fund-raising records in each of the last few months, is all but tapped out as it enters the seven-week run to the Nov. 7 election. The Massachusetts Democratic Party has stashed $400,000 to pay for ``in-kind" campaign expenses until the candidate can replenish his treasury. On Monday, Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, and the state's congressional delegation will host a fund-raiser in Boston. Former president Bill Clinton, who appointed Patrick to head the Justice Department's civil rights division, will headline a fund-raiser Oct. 16 for the state party, and other Democratic surrogates with national cache are expected to make stops in the state.
Healey has already dumped $4.2 million of her personal money into her campaign, and there's more where that came from -- the wealth of her husband, asset management firm executive Sean Healey. Gray would not say how much they intend to spend, however.
The Healey campaign is expected to launch ads within a day or two drawing contrasts with Patrick over stock-in-trade GOP wedge issues such as a rollback of the state income tax. Healey favors the voter-approved cut from 5.3 percent to 5.0 percent. Patrick has said the state can't afford it without pushing costs onto local property taxes.
Healey will get some national help, too. Holding Massachusetts is ``an important priority," said Phil Musser , executive director of the well-funded Republican Governors Association, of which Romney serves as chairman. ``It's going to be a hard-fought race," Musser said, declining to say how much the group plans to spend here.
Both sides boast media consultants with presidential campaign experience -- Stuart Stevens and Russ Schriefer for Healey, and AKP Message & Media (David Axelrod , David Plouffe , and John Kupper ) for Patrick. Besides the air war of ads, the candidates will meet in at least three televised debates.
Romney has played almost no role on Healey's behalf. Statewide polling has showed the electorate is ambivalent about the governor, now exploring a presidential candidacy.
``Kerry Healey has to earn it on her own, and she's happy to do that," Gray said.
Focus groups assembled by the Massachusetts Democratic Party in July showed that potential swing voters don't know Healey well or what role she played under Romney, according to a summary of the findings that was read to the Globe.
The charismatic and eloquent Patrick, barely known in Bay State politics 18 months ago, captivated Democratic activists early as he built a campaign from scratch. His organization swept the party caucuses in February, easily won the party's convention endorsement in June, and, using the Internet effectively, built a strong ground game for yesterday's primary.
Voters' unfamiliarity with Healey could make it more difficult for her to attack Patrick effectively, said veteran Democratic political consultant and commentator Mary Anne Marsh .
``They're going to have to go after Patrick and be negative," she said. ``The question is: Will she have the standing with voters that they will believe what they're saying? People have to know and like you before they believe and trust you."
A wild card in the race is Christy Mihos , a Republican turned independent, who said he will begin airing television ads today. Mihos, owner of a Cape Cod convenience store chain, has so far poured about $2.7 million of his personal money into his campaign. A social liberal/fiscal conservative, Mihos is using populist themes to portray himself as the true outsider in the race.
Grace Ross, a community organizer who is running her campaign on a shoestring, tops a Green-Rainbow Party ticket that is fielding more candidates for statewide constitutional office (four) than the Republican Party (three).