This article misstated the amount that Gov. Deval L. Patrick's office estimated would be saved when the governor eliminated a requirement that police officers be present at all road-construction sites in the state. The estimate was that the use of civilian flaggers would save $12 million a year, not $100 million a year.
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Massachusetts Gov. Patrick's reelection campaign a test case for Obama in 2012
There are limits to how useful Patrick's example will be for Obama. The makeup and political leanings of liberal Massachusetts are far different from much of the nation. And while bad, the economy here has not been ransacked the way it has in many of the states that will probably determine who becomes president.
Nevertheless, White House officials think Patrick's campaign will help decide whether a style and approach he and Obama share will continue to be successful.
"Obviously there is the path-of-least-resistance politics, and then there is this conviction politics that is more difficult but holds more promise," said White House senior adviser David Axelrod, who was a part of Patrick's first campaign and is advising him again this year. "I think they're both practitioners of conviction politics. The question is: Do you get rewarded for that?"
Reality of governing
Patrick and Obama share a similar worldview, political circumstance and biography: Both are Harvard Law graduates, have Chicago roots, and were raised by single mothers and haunted by the absence of their fathers. For years, they have shared some of the same key strategists, including Axelrod and David Plouffe, architects of Obama's 2008 campaign, and their partners, John Del Cecato and Larry Grisolano. And Patrick became the first African American governor of Massachusetts two years before Obama won his historic election.
Patrick stirred throngs of supporters with an inaugural address presenting himself as a symbol of optimism. He spoke in historical terms of his unlikely rise from the welfare tenements on the South Side of Chicago, "a place where hope withers," to the governorship of the state that "invented America."
Then a man who had never won elected office walked into the building he had campaigned against. Patrick was governor, and his reform crusade put him at odds with legislative leaders. They clashed as falling tax revenue required painful budget cuts.
With the economy cratering, Patrick set in motion long-range initiatives -- a $1 billion program to bolster the state's biotechnology industry, an overhaul of public education, a controversial wind-energy farm off Cape Cod -- that he believed would enable Massachusetts to recover faster and stronger than elsewhere.
But the governor's agenda provided little comfort to constituents who were out of work or struggling to pay bills, and voter dissatisfaction with him grew. Patrick now faces strong challenges from Republican Charlie Baker, a former health insurance executive, and Democrat-turned-independent Tim Cahill, the state's treasurer. Both are saying he has not done enough to control government spending.
"These guys are bunting when we need to be swinging away in terms of reform," Baker said in an interview.
Patrick has at times alienated key constituencies. For instance, Massachusetts was the only state that required the presence of police officers at all roadway construction sites. The governor revised the policy to allow civilian flaggers instead, saving an estimated $100 million a year. But he drew the ire of law enforcement unions, and police officers now picket outside his campaign events.
But, like Obama, Patrick says he takes the political long view, sticking to his principles even if that means suffering short-term political damage.
"If you really do respect democracy, and you really aren't in it to just win reelection but to do what you think is right, then you have to take the chance that you lead with conviction and someone will say, 'I don't like your convictions. I want to pick somebody else,' " Patrick said in an interview in the back of his Chevy Tahoe, shuttling between campaign stops. "That's okay. I will always be proud of what we've accomplished even if we don't have a second term to accomplish more."