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Adrian Walker

Patrick’s road ahead

By Adrian Walker
Globe Columnist / November 6, 2010

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He was calling from outside the White House, and was hoarse and seemed tired.

Despite all that, there was nothing muted or muffled in Deval Patrick’s triumphant tone, making a brief Washington stop two days after he defied the odds by being elected to a second term as governor.

Patrick’s reelection this week made his 2006 run look easy. Though he held a lead in every significant poll during the race, this felt like the closest seven-point race in memory. Not only did Patrick face arguably tougher competition, he ran in a state that was in a much darker mood.

“The most obvious difference is that the times are a lot different,’’ he said. “The economic cloud over the state was also over the campaign. The economy affected how people think about government and their expectations for it. We started out with a mood that was full of worry.’’

It wasn’t just the times that were different, though. In 2006 he was a political ingenue running on soaring rhetoric and an inspiring vision, inviting voters to embrace an idea as opposed to a set of plans. This time he had a record to defend and an accumulated chorus of skeptics.

That meant that he also faced something he did not have to cope with as a first-time candidate with a scant public record — being attacked by his opponents. Though he maintained his composure across 16 debates, he clearly did not enjoy it.

“Sometimes I listened to the other candidates and they acted like everything wrong — including rain and a flat tire — was my fault and like anything good never even happened,’’ he said. “I knew it would be tough. I don’t take anything for granted, any day. That’s how you are when you come from where I come from.’’

Patrick has been a work-in-progress as a governor, but even his critics would grant that the past two years of his term represented a dramatic improvement over his stumbling start.

“You’re always learning, but there are things that I’ve learned are essential to the job,’’ he said. “Whether it’s where the levers of government are and how to use them, or how to engage the public, through the media or otherwise.’’

Obviously, the big question now is where Patrick hopes to take the state in his second term. His first decision was announced this week, when he tapped Roderick Ireland to serve as the next chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court. Ireland would be the first African-American to hold the job.

“He is exactly what the court needs right now,’’ Patrick said. “The stability and credibility of Justice Ireland is just right. I’m proud of the fact that we’ve got someone with such a range of experience, and that he’s from Western Massachusetts and African-American.’’

Ireland is a great appointment, but Patrick will ultimately be judged by how he tackles the state’s problems. He cited job creation, education, and controlling health care costs as three priorities for his next term. None of those lend themselves to easy fixes. A looming and enormous deficit won’t help either. The euphoria of election night could easily prove short-lived.

But Patrick views it differently. The man is nothing if not an inveterate optimist. Before you mock that, it’s worth recalling that when most of the supposedly politically savvy people in this state had left him for dead, he knew better.

But winning cures everything. Patrick said one of the keys to the campaign was to make his peace with bragging, with letting the public know what he has accomplished.

“You’re supposed to take a victory lap,’’ Patrick said. “I think there will be more of those victory laps, and I’m expecting no fewer victories.’’

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com.