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Shirley Leung

In the race for Mass. governor, nobody has ‘it’

Martha Coakley, Charlie Baker, Steve Grossman are lacking the “it” factor.

AP Photos/File

Martha Coakley, Charlie Baker, Steve Grossman are lacking the “it” factor.

In the race for governor, nobody’s got “it.”

Sure, we have candidates who poll well with favorable ratings — Martha Coakley, Charlie Baker, Steve Grossman. But none have what’s called the political “it” factor, a quality that energizes voters and gets them buzzing about the election. Deval Patrick, Scott Brown, Bill Clinton — they all have “it.”

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So Massachusetts electorate, if you’re bored already, it’s not you, it’s them.

Roger Ailes, the media guru who made Richard Nixon likeable, called the ability to be liked the “magic bullet” in both politics and business. “If your audience likes you, they’ll forgive just about everything else you do wrong,” wrote Ailes, now CEO of Fox News.

Patrick’s second-term performance puts an exclamation point on that. Dead children and the Department of Children and Families, a broken health connector website, fraud at a state drug lab. Yet the Globe poll last week showed Patrick remains among the most popular politicians in the state and that more people believe Massachusetts is on a right track than a wrong one. He’s got a job approval rating of 51 percent — high enough that he could win a third term, if he were running.

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Maybe his next campaign slogan could be “I am the Teflon Governor.”

I’m reminded that Patrick, the private sector lawyer who leaped to the top of state politics in a single bound, may have wowed delegates at the state Democratic convention in 2006, but he didn’t catch fire until afterward.

So maybe there’s hope for this year’s field. I threw the question back at all the candidates. Do you have “it,” and do you need “it” to win?

Many camps countered that they don’t think their candidate needs “it” to win. Patrick has an extraordinary touch, and his message of hope resonated with voters. But times are different now.

“I don’t think I would be on ‘American Idol’ anytime soon,” said Joe Avellone , the Democrat health care executive, but “I do think I am right for the times.”

Front-runners Coakley and Baker sidestepped the issue. Who needs “it” when Coakley’s favorability is just below Patrick’s?

In the 2010 race against Patrick, Baker looked like a wooden plank next to our charmer in chief. This time, the Republican candidate seems downright amiable compared with his opponents, but he makes no illusions about his charisma. Rather, he strives to be authentic. He even composes his own Facebook posts and tweets. Does it get any more real than social media?

The rap on Grossman, the treasurer, is he’s the best politician of the bunch, but would never make Cosmo’s Sexiest Man Alive issue. The Democrat knows he might not sizzle, but he can get the job done. “I will freely admit I am a workhorse, not a show horse,” he said in a phone interview.

Don Berwick , however, believes he has “it.” After all, the health care reformer has been called the Mick Jagger of medicine. Even without the rock star’s pillowy lips, Berwick said, he was surrounded by a throng of admirers at a recent Pittsfield gathering. “It felt like a movement,” said the Newton Democrat.

There was hope among the Democrats that Juliette Kayyem , the former homeland security official and Globe columnist, would emerge from the pack. That hasn’t quite happened.

“I never compared myself to Deval Patrick and Elizabeth Warren. Others did,” said Kayyem. “I am a different person.”

Independent candidate Evan Falchuk , whose brother Brad is a co-creator of the Fox show “Glee,” can be just as cheeky, I am told. Another independent, Jeff McCormick , the venture capitalist, seems far from “it.”

But the candidates, so far, have nothing to worry about. “If you don’t have ‘it,’ ” said Democratic operative Scott Ferson, “it’s only a problem if somebody else does.”

Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.
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