Completing one of the most extraordinary political journeys the state has seen, Democrat Deval L. Patrick won a landslide victory yesterday over Republican Kerry Healey and two other candidates to become the first African-American elected governor of Massachusetts.
Patrick, a former federal civil rights prosecutor and corporate lawyer making his first run for public office, rolled up huge margins across the state, clearing the way for the Democrats to capture the governor's office after 16 years of GOP control. Independent Christy Mihos and Green-Rainbow Party candidate Grace Ross trailed far behind Healey.
With election results from over 90 percent of the state's precincts showing him holding a 56 percent to 35 percent over Healey, Patrick appeared before a crowd of 6,000 supporters and Democratic leaders at the Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center last night and declared that his campaign was a "movement for change."
"Today ... the people of Massachusetts chose by a decisive margin to take back their government," Patrick said. He said the voters had rejected a "government by gimmicks and sound bites" and promised to head an administration that is less divisive and is inclusive of all parts of the political and economic spectrum.
Patrick also asserted that his candidacy represented a broad coalition of Massachusetts citizens, from all walks of life, and made reference to his sojourn from the poverty-stricken neighborhood of his youth in Chicago to the top levels of the federal government and to the boardrooms of multinational corporations.
"You are every black man, woman, and child in Massachusetts and America and every other striver of every other race and kind who is reminded tonight that the American dream is for you, too," Patrick told the jubilant crowd. He was joined in the celebration by his running mate, Worcester Mayor Tim Murray, and US Senators Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kerry.
Patrick's election marks a major watershed for Massachusetts, which has only once before elected a member of a minority to statewide office. Voters in 1967 sent Republican Edward Brooke to serve two terms in the US Senate. Patrick is the second African-American to be elected governor in the United States since Reconstruction; L. Douglas Wilder served a term as Virginia's governor in the early 1990s.
Patrick reached out to all the residents of the state in his acceptance speech.
"You see in common how broken our civic life and how fractured our communities have become. You see in common that the poor are in terrible shape and the middle class are one month away from being poor. You know that government by gimmick and sound bite isnt working. You know we deserve better and we are better than that. And for a chance at a better and more hopeful future, you built bridges some of you never thought you could, across all kinds of differences -- and then you crossed them.
"You are business executives looking for a better margin and artists looking to be valued. You are college kids in search of a career and high school drop-outs looking for a way forward. You are young mothers trying to balance work and child care and grandmothers trying to hold on to the family home.
You are farmers and fishing families wondering whether there is a future in livelihoods that built this Commonwealth and union members wondering why there is so little work when there is so much to do. And the magic is that you have come together not just for your own dreams and your own aspirations, but for each others."
Healey, appearing before her supporters at a Boston hotel about an hour after polls closed, congratulated Patrick for what she called a "great victory." She also noted that the election marked a historic moment in state political history.
"Barriers have been broken and we should all be grateful for that," Healey said.
"I pray that God will give him the wisdom to lead Massachusetts into prosperity and lead us to innovation," Healey said, extending a public graciousness to her Democratic rival that she never used during their bitterly fought campaign. "I am very hopeful that he will do exactly that."
As ballots were counted last night, Patrick, battling in a four-way race, rolled up a wide margin. But he did not outpoll the state's record gubernatorial landslide set in 1994, when incumbent governor William F. Weld beat Democrat Mark Roosevelt by 42.6 percentage points in a two-man campaign.
Patrick won a commanding majority of both women and men and, with an overwhelming majority among liberals, also beat Healey among those who described themselves as moderates and independents, according to an exit poll conducted for Associated Press.
Patrick, 50, of Milton, ran up huge margins in urban centers that traditionally support Democrats, in the liberal communities around the state, and in small communities in Western Massachusetts. Healey, the state's lieutenant governor, drew her votes in traditionally Republican areas, but couldn't get traction in areas such as the Merrimack Valley, suburban towns, and Cape Cod, where Republicans have usually gained enough support to win statewide elections.
Patrick's victory was fueled by heavy voting in many of the state's minority districts. Turnout in some areas of Boston was so strong that polling stations ran out of ballots, leaving long lines of frustrated voters. City officials rushed to get new ballots to those polling places.
Patrick carried Boston by a 3-to-1 ratio, and had solid majorities in predominantly white neighborhoods such as South Boston and West Roxbury. He also drew strong support from his hometown, where 80 percent of Milton's registered voters showed up to cast ballots. In his own precinct, the turnout was 88 percent.
Patrick's victory marks the outcome of a campaign that few predicted early on. He appeared on the Massachusetts political scene in early 2005, expressing an interest in running for governor. He was a virtual unknown, with few political contacts in the Beacon Hill establishment and no financial base.
After announcing his campaign that April, he proceeded to woo liberal activists and others with inspirational themes of inclusiveness and hope, while vowing to bring a change to the state's political culture. His campaign recruited thousands of highly enthusiastic volunteers, allowing him to build a statewide organization and outflank his Democratic rivals, Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly and businessman Christopher Gabrieli. He won the three-way primary with 50 percent of the vote.
His huge victory at the polls yesterday concludes a bitter general election battle in which Healey sought to portray him as a liberal in the mold of former governor Michael S. Dukakis. She criticized him as soft on crime, assailed his support for special tuition rates and driver's licenses for illegal immigrants, and slammed his refusal to back her call to roll back the state income tax to 5 percent. She also pumped up the theme that voters should prefer a Republican as governor to balance the Democrat-controlled Legislature.
Healey's controversial decision to air negative attack ads against Patrick in mid-October shook up the campaign, with polls showing his once-commanding lead narrowing at first. But the increasingly tough tone of her commercials produced a backlash from voters, and soon her unfavorable rating rose to over 50 percent.
Healey's attacks on him on the other issues also did not diminish his standings, polls showed, though her positions, including the tax rollback debate, were favored by a majority of voters. Instead, the electorate seemed drawn to Patrick's personality, his ability to connect when he addressed crowds and met voters, and his inspirational themes, including his calls to put aside partisan bickering.
Patrick's victory in the contest is another chapter of an extraordinary success story for a product of Chicago's South Side. He had won scholarships to attend Milton Academy and Harvard University and Harvard Law School. He headed the US Justice Department's civil rights division during the Clinton administration and later served as general counsel to Coca-Cola and Texaco.
Healey's loss is a major blow to the Massachusetts Republican Party, now at its lowest point in its 150-year history. The GOP numbers in the 200-member state Legislature have never been smaller and, for the first time since 1991, the party holds no constitutional offices. No Massachusetts Republican has held a congressional seat since 1996.
Healey's defeat is also a political embarrassment for Governor Mitt Romney. He had picked her as his running mate in 2002, and some observers are citing him as a factor in her defeat. Romney, in his bid to drum up support for a presidential candidacy, has become increasingly unpopular in Massachusetts.
Matt Viser, Scott Helman, and Andrea Estes of the Globe staff contributed to this report.