BOSTON – Deval Patrick was elected governor of Massachusetts on Tuesday, restoring the Democratic Party to the Corner Office after a 16-year absence, and putting himself into the history books as the first black person to win the state's highest office in its 218-year history.
Patrick defeated Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, the Republican nominee, as well as independent Christy Mihos and Grace Ross of the Green-Rainbow Party, based on a statistical analysis of the vote from voter interviews conducted for The Associated Press by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International.
In addition to the state distinction, the victory made Patrick just the second African-American governor in the nation since Reconstruction. The first, L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia, left office more than a decade ago, in 1995.
"I believe in a grass-roots strategy to campaign. I believe in a grass-roots strategy to govern," Patrick, 50, said earlier in the day, in a preview of remarks he planned to deliver to thousands at an election-night party at the Hynes Convention Center.
"Our biggest challenge is how we transfer that energy and that excitement and willingness of people to connect and check back in into day-to-day governing and into a revived civic life," he said.
Worcester Mayor Tim Murray, who ran jointly with Patrick on the Democratic ticket, was elected lieutenant governor.
With Patrick's win came immense challenges, as Patrick inherited responsibility for tunnel repairs in the $14.6-billion Central Artery project, implementing the state's new universal health insurance program and also deciding the fate of a Romney administration proposal to eliminate tolls on the Massachusetts Turnpike west of Route 128.
At the same time, he conceded "the line is already forming" among Democrats clamoring for jobs and pet projects. The demand has built over a run of Republican governors extending back to January 1991, when former Gov. Michael S. Dukakis left the Statehouse just over two years after a failed run for the presidency.
While Massachusetts is considered one of the most Democratic of the nation's "blue" states, voters had elected Republicans William F. Weld, Paul Cellucci and Mitt Romney as a counterweight to Democrat majorities in the House and Senate.
Romney, elected in 2002, decided against seeking a second term and is considering a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.
Healey voted in her hometown of Beverly and later shook hands outside the Holy Name Church in West Roxbury, but she largely spent a low-key final day on the trail. She repaired to her campaign headquarters to place thank-you calls to her volunteers, and took her staff out for lunch.
She expressed one regret when asked how she might have improved her campaign.
"I would have started correcting some of those misperceptions about the record of Massachusetts and the reality of Massachusetts," she said. "I think that when people hear again and again that there's been jobs lost here in Massachusetts, they begin to believe it, even though the truth is we've added jobs over the course of the last year."
As the balloting got under way, Michael Baldwin, 54, a postal worker from Weymouth, said he voted for Patrick because he thought he would balance the needs of all residents when making decisions.
"He's a businessman, so he's not going to be tarred as antibusiness," Baldwin said. "He's compassionate enough for the people who don't have anything, and he'll spread the responsibility across the board."
In Northampton, Richard Burque, 54, a computer programmer, said he voted for the Democrat in part because he thought Patrick had the best plan to help the economy, but also because he was turned off by negative campaign ads aired by Healey.
"It made me think if all she had to say is how bad the other guy is, then what's so great about her?" he said.
But Peter Perry, 48, of Whitman said Healey's ads weren't really negative — they were fair and pointed to Patrick's record, but the media just construed them as negative. The self-employed excavation contractor said he voted for Healey because she stood for small government and less taxes.
"I'm really scared if Deval Patrick gets in he'll be what everyone says he'll be — Du-Patrick, Dukakis-Patrick. Tax and spend, tax and spend, tax and spend," Perry said.
Joan DeMole, 69, a homemaker from Weymouth, said the tough ads were fair, but did not affect her vote for Healey. She said Healey had a more specific plan for fixing the state's economy and valuable experience working in the governor's office.
"She's been there, done it," DeMole said.
Patrick made his first run for political office after a career working for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, two law firms, the Justice Department under President Clinton, as well as two stints in the corporate world as counsel to both Texaco Inc. and The Coca-Cola Co.
The Democrat waged an unorthodox campaign, eschewing large-money supporters in favor of meeting with community leaders and establishing a broad-based grass roots organization.
Healey, 46, was a two-time loser for state representative in Beverly before Romney, then a Republican candidate for governor, tapped her to be his running mate in 2002.
Healey focused on Patrick during her campaign and accused him of being soft on crime, supportive of tax increases and unwilling to stand up to his fellow Democrats if they extended their grasp over the Legislature to the Governor's Office.