Amid give and take, no rekindling of 2006 spirit

By Stephanie Ebbert and Noah Bierman
Globe Staff / October 29, 2010

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Five days before voters head to the polls, Governor Deval Patrick made his way to the tiny hill town of Heath, a Western Massachusetts community with just 800 residents who rewarded him mightily for his campaign’s attention four years ago. So grateful were they after the virtual unknown showed up to campaign there that all but six voters supported him in the Democratic primary, giving him 97 percent of the vote.

“I wanted to come back and remind you that I have not forgotten you,’’ he said during a town gathering yesterday at Heath Elementary, a modern school nestled between forest, fields and farms.

But it is tough to recapture the magic of a togetherwe-can campaign as an incumbent asking for four more years. While a new Suffolk University/7 News poll yesterday showed Patrick holding on to a 7-point lead over Republican Charles D Baker, the voters of Heath, even those who support the governor, seemed more weary than euphoric as they greeted their onetime hero.

“I don’t know what his chances are,’’ said Rebecca Allen, 39, a member of the town’s Board of Health and School Committee who lost her job as a personal-care assistant more than a year ago. “I personally would vote for him because I think he’s on the right track. It’s not just a bad time in Massachusetts; it’s a bad time everywhere. I can’t fault him for that, and I don’t.’’

But Baker does. Campaigning in Boston yesterday, he tried to make the case that this time around, a vote for Patrick would be a vote for the status quo. With his hair and tie blowing in the wind, Baker stood by the waterfront at Lopresti Park in East Boston for a press conference and attacked the governor for a “$91 million barge to nowhere.’’

He was referring to a report in yesterday’s Boston Herald that said a state agency had considered buying a barge to help place wind turbines in deep ocean waters, in an apparent bid to help the Cape Cod offshore wind farm.

“This is business as usual for Governor Patrick,’’ Baker said, standing in front of a placard that showed a caricature of Patrick smiling from the wheelhouse of a barge, carrying stacks of money and windmills.

The Patrick administration said the barge plan was unrelated to the Cape Wind project, which Baker has criticized, and said the barge would have paid for itself with fees from private companies that would use it. The administration said yesterday that it ultimately chose not to pursue the barge because the federal government is looking into an alternative system for deep-water wind turbines.

“He denies it’s for Cape Wind, even though the paperwork says otherwise,’’ Baker said. “There was certainly a plan. . . . There was momentum.’’

Robert Keough, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said the vessel was mentioned only in reports by two private consultants, not state documents, and there has never been a claim it would be needed for Cape Wind.

Patrick’s campaign manager, Sydney Asbury, shot back with another quip about Baker’s role in devising a financing plan for the Big Dig when he was in state government in the 1990s.

“It’s ironic that Republican Charlie Baker is talking about a boat that will never be built when there are roads and bridges all across Massachusetts that have not been built because of Baker’s reckless Big Dig financing scheme,’’ she said in a statement.

But Baker and his allies have continued to hammer Patrick on the state of the economy, and this week the Republican Governors Association pumped another $1.4 million into the race and launched another ad that hammers the governor for the “failed promises’’ of his last campaign.

“Are you satisfied with the way things are in Massachusetts today?’’ the ad says. “I’m not, not with the loss of jobs and people; not with the quality of some of our schools; not with the crushing burden of property taxes.”

Meanwhile, Timothy P. Cahill held a press conference yesterday to ‘’remind people that there’s still an independent in the race.’’

Despite his sagging poll numbers and his acknowledgment that a victory for him in Tuesday’s election would be a “surprise,’’ Cahill said he is feeling encouraged by voters he is meeting around the state.

“I have been up against the wall before,’’ Cahill said. “It’s nothing I haven’t been faced with in the past. At the end of the day, my faith in people has been rewarded. They have come to my rescue, the voters.’’

During a stop at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Patrick, accompanied by US Representative John Olver and local legislators, gave a quiet motivational speech to about 70 students and faculty.

Patrick urged his audience at the Student Union rally to get out the vote, to work the polls, to babysit for voters if it would help them get to the polls. And, as he often has in his recent stump speeches, the governor declared: “It’s not about me. It’s not about the candidates. It’s about you. It’s about our future. And it’s about generational responsibility.’’

Then Patrick headed to Heath, another hour away, where a crowd of roughly 100 gathered for the town-meeting-style event.

He fielded questions that were friendly if not always agreeable. The governor disagreed with one questioner that the Green-Rainbow Party candidate, Jill Stein, was diluting his support in the race and that her support for a single-payer health care system was the only solution. He said he favors the wind farm siting bill that one resident, Bob Dane, told the crowd would force power-generating turbines onto local ridgelines.

“What I like about Deval is he answers the questions people ask,’’ said Pam Porter, one of the event’s coordinators and a member of the Heath Democratic Town Committee. “He’s very straightforward. He lets you know what he thinks and where he stands.’’

Others in the crowd offered only tepid support. Dane, a glassblower in Heath, called himself a “liberal with a capital L,’’ but “probably’’ was the best he could do when asked whether he would vote for Patrick. “There aren’t any other good choices,’’ he said.

In addition to highlighting the barge yesterday, Baker criticized Patrick again for raising taxes, and predicted that, if reelected, he would raise them again. Baker has made his “no new taxes’’ pledge a centerpiece of his campaign.

“Four years ago, we heard him say over and over again that he had no plans to raise taxes,’’ Baker said. “Whenever he had a problem, he hit the tax button.’’

Baker and Patrick are both planning statewide bus tours this weekend.

The new poll of likely voters, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent, found Patrick with 46 percent of the vote, Baker with 39 percent, Cahill with 9 percent, and Stein with 2 percent.