Friday, October 15, 2010

The Governor Taketh Away: The Other Guy (and Gal)...

A new poll released by Suffolk University shows that voters in Massachusetts are moving away from the third party candidates and toward the Republican and Democratic nominees Charlie Baker and Deval Patrick.  This news does not bode well for Democrat turned Independent Treasurer Tim Cahill and Green Party candidate Jill Stein.  Still, their addition to the Governor's race has brought the Bay State another four way election for the state's highest office.

Green Party candidate Jill Stein, we shall mention first.  Stein, a medical doctor, is not new to Massachusetts politics.  She ran against Mitt Romney in 2002 for Governor, against William Galvin for Secretary of State in 2006, and for lower offices near her home in Lexington.  Still, most people may not have really heard of her unless you are following this election carefully.  This is unfortunate, because it is plainly clear that she has a lot to say on the issues and much to contribute to the conversation.  Born in Chicago, she graduated from Harvard Medical school in 1979 and has dedicated a great deal of her life to the social good.

It is not surprising, given her Green party nomination, that the environment is her specialty.  She has written numerous publications on the impact of environmental factors in people's health and on the need for renewable sources of energy.  For her environmental credentials, she deserves high marks, but her liberalism, though praiseworthy, appears, for whatever reason, to keep her out of the mainstream.  She could certainly fit in the left of the Democratic party, but likely would have been marginalized with so many conservative interests in Massachusetts wing of the party.  Her liberal views, however, are not practical politically or legislatively.  Were Massachusetts in a nation less hostile to anything short of rugged individualism, her views may fit better for Massachusetts.  They may push Massachusetts further to the left, but relatively speaking, in a more left-leaning America, nobody would notice.

Her campaign stumbled, too, in its failure to raise a certain amount of money needed to qualify for public financing.  Whereas her three opponents met the fund raising minimum earlier this election season, Stein did not.  This left her financially disadvantaged going into the home stretch.  Normally, a Green party candidate could present real problems for the Democrat, just as Tim Cahill has been presenting to Charlie Baker.  However, polls show Stein at around 1%, hardly enough to eat away at Patrick's command of the left while drawing in the center.  Some polls, like the one released by the Baker campaign that showed the former insurance executive up, do not include her at all.

The other third party candidate is the Independent Tim Cahill.  The Commonwealth's treasurer left the Democratic party last year to pursue a run for the Corner Office.  Cahill had his feelers out on a governor's run for months before bailing and his move was something of a head-scratcher.  Independents have not had the best luck running for office.  Still, running to Patrick's right to steal the Democratic nomination is a long-shot.  Although, Michael Dukakis got dethroned from the right in 1982.

Coming from the right did not in itself make Cahill's run strange.  Rather, when he came out to the right of Charlie Baker, the political establishment had to do a double take.  In late 2009 and especially after Scott Brown's Senate victory, Deval Patrick began to look like a target was painted on his back.  There was only one thing that seemed to stand between Patrick and the State House exit: Tim Cahill.

There is nothing particularly right-wing about Tim Cahill.  However, his tax policies are somewhat extreme and his position on health care relies more on cuts than Baker.  Cahill associated himself with tea partiers.  Moreover, while Charlie Baker is clearly in Cahill's cross hairs, Deval Patrick's policies get far more attention.  On other days, except for the voice approving "this message," a Cahill ad is almost indistinguishable from a Baker ad.

How does this block a Deval exit?  The net result will be a split in the anti-Patrick vote and a Patrick win on plurality.

That result certainly reflects a disappointment in a Governor who trounced three opponents in 2006 with 56% of the vote.  It is cold comfort for Republicans hoping to win back the governor's office.  After 2009's summer of tax increases, Massachusetts Republicans could have looked for no better landscape.

Tim Cahill's candidacy always seemed like tilting at windmills (David and Goliath(s) to his supporters.  Polls consistently showed him in third.  A best case scenario would put him at second.  Then, the question had to be asked.  Could Cahill have been a plant?  Could the one-time Democrat have been sent out there to spoil Baker's perfect path to Beacon Hill?

Maybe.  We might have thought that until, for a few months this campaign season, Baker and Patrick were neck and neck.  Baker could have pulled ahead.  Until the defections.

Earlier this month, Cahill's campaign was rocked by staff defections including his running mate for lieutenant governor.  The whole lot of them ended up endorsing Baker.  Cahill responded with lawsuits.  This whole situation should have helped Baker.  Instead, some observers suggest that the entire ordeal hurt both Cahill and Baker.  Nobody could have predicted this.

The Massachusetts campaign season has been as colorful as the national campaign.  This year, however, has illustrated a Republican implosion of sorts.  To the exception of New Hampshire and possibly Maine's gubernatorial election, Republicans are not finding very much love in New England.  If Tim Cahill was really born again a tea partier, then even a post-Scott Brown Massachusetts would not have wanted to take tea with him.  If he had just stuck to the egomania, and then ran as independent he might have been in business.

*Cahill and Stein photos from wikipedia.  Beacon Hill photo by WMassP&I

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