By 10 p.m. on Election Day, a prediction by political science professor Michael Kryzanek that Democrat Martha Coakley would win the gubernatorial race by about 1,000 votes seemed right on the money.
But just an hour later, when results from South Shore suburbs started coming in, Republican Charlie Baker had the lead by about 8,000 votes.
“The Hinghams, the Cohassets, the Braintrees, Weymouths, Plymptons started to come in,” said Kryzanek, who teaches at Bridgewater State University. “In those towns, mostly the unenrolled clearly gave Baker a boost. The South Shore had some significant impact around 11 p.m.”
With voter turnout in Boston and other large cities such as Worcester down from 2010, when Baker lost to incumbent Governor Deval Patrick by 6.5 percentage points, suburban communities had a stronger influence, and pushed Baker to victory this time around, said Mary McHugh, adjunct professor of American politics at Merrimack College.
“When you have a potential of a lower turnout in the city of Boston, it will magnify the results of the suburbs,” McHugh said. “Some of those towns, they will vote Republican when they can. . . . The suburbs really have taken on an increased importance. What this has proven is you can’t just get your votes in your cities.”
This time Baker improved his gains not only in conservative-leaning towns, particularly south of Boston, but also in smaller cities considered Democratic strongholds such as Newton and Salem, where he lost to Coakley but still garnered more votes than he did in 2010.
“Baker improved his margins in just about every single town from 2010 to 2014,” said Joshua J. Dyck, acting chairman of University of Massachusetts Lowell’s political science department and codirector of the UMass Lowell Center for Public Opinion. “Boston, Worcester, and Springfield he lost, but did substantially better in those places than he did in 2010.”
With 58 percent of the vote, Coakley trounced Baker in Newton, but his 37 percent showing there was 8 points higher than in 2010. In Salem, Baker improved by 5 points to 42 percent .
Campaigning as a moderate Republican, Baker appealed to independents, who make up the majority of registered voters in Greater Boston suburbs.
“A Republican candidate who runs as a moderate manager can be quite an attractive candidate, especially to those independent-leaning Democrats,” Dyck said. “Charlie Baker was a well-spoken moderate candidate who seemed to really connect with people, and Martha Coakley had a very difficult time shaking what people remembered about 2010 in the special election with Scott Brown.”
Dyck added, “I think a lot of Democrats expected her to lose, and I think that affected turnout among her most likely supporters.”
Matt Fenlon, executive director of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, said Coakley had grass-roots momentum in every community, and counted 6,300 volunteers on Election Day who knocked on more than 400,000 doors and called 700,000 voters.
“The election ended up as close as it was as a result of the grass-roots effort Martha did,” Fenlon said. “We had upwards of 50 offices across the state, from small communities to the big cities.”
Representatives from the Massachusetts Republican Party did not return a request for comment.
‘Charlie Baker . . . seemed to really connect with people.’
Wellesley was among the communities that Baker lost in 2010 but won on Tuesday. Potentially helping his chances there was the state treasurer’s race between local Republican Michael Heffernan and Democrat Deborah Goldberg, said Susan Ryan, cochairwoman of the Wellesley Democratic Town Committee.
Although Heffernan lost to Goldberg, he is well known in Wellesley, where he won, and could have influenced voters to back Baker, she said.
But there was also the issue of Coakley herself, whom Ryan described as “not Deval Patrick.”
“She’s not going to give us those inspirational speeches; I’m sure she wishes she could,” Ryan said. “A charismatic candidate she is not, and that’s not something that’s easily fixed.”
South of Boston, Baker managed to win in both Milton and Quincy, where he had lost to Patrick in 2010. He squeaked by with a 1-point advantage over Coakley in Milton, and won by 5 percentage points in Quincy. Dyck pointed out that Quincy’s voter turnout was 4,000 fewer than in 2010.
“The issue is turnout; how many people are actually coming out to vote,” Dyck said. “The turnout rate for eligible voters in Massachusetts in 2010 was 49.4 percent; in 2014 it was 43.9 percent. . . Among registered voters, Coakley was preferred. So you have to look at turnout. Independent-leaning Democrats came over to the Baker side. Where she lost support was stalwart Democrats.”
In Newburyport, where Baker lost with 42 percent of the vote in 2010, but won with 49 percent on Tuesday, Charles Tontar, chairman of the Newburyport Democratic City Committee, said Republicans were much more organized locally than they were a few years ago at getting out the vote.
“There was an enthusiasm gap at the beginning of this campaign. Part of that is we won. We had the governor’s office for eight years, and the Republicans were hungry, very hungry, they really wanted the governor’s office,” Tontar said. “I’ll be honest, it’s a bit of a letdown when you had a candidate like Deval Patrick, who inspired a lot of people on a personal level.”Katheleen Conti can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKConti.