Wrentham, Massachusetts, is not only home to GOP Sen. Scott Brown ... it's home to a storied collection of outlet stores. It is these "outlet voters" -- the suburbanites and exurbanites of southern and central Massachusetts -- who will tell the final story of the Bay State governor's race in 2010.
Outlet voters swarmed to the Republican checkout line to vote for two popular members of their party in the last 10 years: Mitt Romney in the governor's race in 2002; and Brown in the special election for Senate earlier this year. Both candidates won.
You see the power in these outlet voters when you watch them at non-political events, from shopping at the IKEA in Stoughton to cheering on the Pats at Gillette Stadium. It was these outlet voters that the great New York Times columnist David Brooks unconsciously evoked when he penned his great paean to the exurbs back in the George W. Bush era. (Yes, their counterparts nationwide loved Dubya.)
For Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat who represents everything the outlet voters dislike -- taxing the rich to help the poor, more social services, increased government in general -- the key to winning this election is straight out of the Sun Tzu playbook: If an enemy is strong, avoid them. I'm predicting and hoping Patrick -- who represents more of what I like than Republican rival Charlie Baker -- will avoid them enough to win this race.
He has avoided them in one way by not stirring up their wrath like fellow Democrats in the past. Former state treasurer Shannon O'Brien offended their sensibilities when she joked about having a tattoo ... paving the way for Mitt's win eight years ago. Current state AG Martha Coakley slandered Fenway Park and Curt Schilling, double no-nos that cost her brownie points against Brown. Deval has played it more prudently.
He also has the fortune of a spoiler in the race, current treasurer Tim "Pick Six" Cahill. Polls report a consistent six percent for the independent from Quincy, which is sort of in the northern hemisphere of the South Shore outlet belt. Cahill's Andrew Jackson-like populism -- in debates, he spoke up for the spoils system and likened his style to the Founding Fathers' -- may resonate with outlet voters who'd otherwise go for Baker.
There are, of course, pitfalls. Patrick seems to have all but written off courting outlet voters directly, ceding the attack-ad space to Baker during sporting events on TV and talk radio. (Kudos to Coakley and Democratic auditor candidate Suzanne Bump for not following the governor's example here.) This puts a lot on Cahill's shoulders, and Cahill does not seem to have any ads during these times either. Worse yet, the treasurer has run an opera-buffa campaign that overshadows the candidate's decent performance in the debates.
Still, Patrick may have done just enough to outmaneuver the outlet voters and get the rest of Massachusetts to vote for him today.