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Senate Race A Warning For Patrick

Do you think Deval Patrick is feeling the heat after Scott Brown's victory on Tuesday?

"Be angry -- but channel it in a positive direction," the Massachusetts governor told lawmakers and, more importantly, voters in his state of the Commonwealth address last night. "It's easy to be against things. It takes tough-mindedness and political courage to be for something," he said.

Brown's historic upset in Tuesday's special election for U.S. Senate is being seen as a harbinger of things to come for officeholders, particularly Democrats, across the country. But arguably nowhere is that outcome more significant than in the Bay State, where the party has near-total control of state government. And the tone of Patrick's speech Thursday, coming so soon after Martha Coakley's humbling defeat, reflected the political predicament he's in.

Patrick was elected with a substantial margin in 2006, ending a long streak of Republican control of the governor's office in Massachusetts. The themes he ran on in that campaign presaged ones that led to Barack Obama's historic election two years later. The two men shared some common traits, and also some of the same campaign advisers. But the goodwill that saw Patrick into office was quickly replaced by skepticism over his leadership, to the point where he was considered one of the more vulnerable incumbents in the country even before Tuesday's result.

"What happened on Tuesday - I don't know if it makes it worse for him or not - but it sure highlights what we already believed, which was that he's in trouble," said Tim Murtaugh, spokesman for the Republican Governors Association.

With an approval rating of just 41 percent in the most recent Boston Globe/UNH survey, some even speculate that the well of dissatisfaction that Brown tapped in to was in part Patrick's doing. As one of the statewide elected officials elected with the governor in 2006, Coakley was held responsible for the voters' unhappiness with the course of the state.

Though Patrick's woes resemble that of many other governors across the country, his numbers are among the weakest of those planning to seek re-election. Still, his ties to the White House and the fact that his road to office mirrors that of the president are among the reasons why administration officials have not overtly sought to push him aside like they have in other states. David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager in 2008, is advising Patrick in his re-election bid.

Two Republicans have lined up to challenge Patrick: Christy Mihos, a businessman who ran as an independent in 2006, and Charlie Baker, the former CEO of Harvard Pilgrim insurance company. Baker is considered the favorite of state and national Republicans, and has raised considerable funds already. He's also tapped into the enthusiasm for Brown in recent weeks and will be following his successful playbook in the months ahead.

"I think Scott won because he was talking about what people were worried about: jobs and spending and taxes and their ability to pay the bills that they're racking up on Beacon Hill and Capitol Hill,'' Baker told the Boston Globe this week. "I think that's a reasonably consistent message that I've been talking about, as well.''

Patrick's one saving grace at this point is that he faces not just a strong Republican opponent, but a third challenger in Tim Cahill, the state treasurer and a former Democrat. Early polling has shown Patrick ahead, but only because the anti-incumbent vote has been split among Baker and Cahill.