It's election season more than a year before voters in the state will have to choose a candidate for governor — or for treasurer. In a rapidly unfolding series of events, a former Democratic candidate for governor, Steve Grossman, announced that he is running for treasurer. Treasurer Tim Cahill, who says he is leaving the Democratic Party, says he'll decide as soon as the summer's over whether he'll run against Gov. Deval Patrick.
Cahill said now that he's leaving the Democratic Party, he's about to find out who his supporters are. "I'll turn around after Labor Day and look behind me," he said. "If I don't see anyone behind me, maybe I've made the wrong decision."
Some of the people who have been behind Cahill until now are conservative Democrats from the South Shore, people like Rep. Ron Mariano of Quincy, Cahill's hometown. Mariano has known Cahill for 18 years, since Cahill first ran for city council.
"Tim has always been an independent thinker and a person of very strong convictions," Mariano said. "So I'm not totally shocked that he has decided to leave the Democratic Party and become an independent."
Mariano said Cahill's decision to leave the party leaves conservative Democrats like him in a difficult position. He said it would be difficult to leave the party to support Cahill. But Mariano said a squabble between Patrick and a challenger in the primary might have been more bruising to Democrats' chances to hold onto the governor's office.
In an interview with WBUR in his office, Cahill admitted that part of his reason for leaving the party was to avoid having to mount an uphill challenge against Gov. Patrick in a primary race.
"I'd be lying if I said there's no political consideration," he said. "And it certainly is a challenge either way, but it has been done where people have made successful challenges from within the party and won the nomination."
Cahill said, in the end, he is leaving the party because he doesn't want to run having to defend the Democrats' decisions to raise the sales tax this year. "If I don't believe in those decisions, I don't want to own them, and I don't want to be responsible for them," he said.
Cahill said he got a wake-up call last year when he was the only statewide office holder to be denied a seat as delegate at the Democratic National Convention. He said he realized then that he had antagonized people at the State House with his independent stance. But he said he's not leaving the party because of the way he was treated. He said he just realizes that he doesn't fit in.
Cahill received reporters for interviews all afternoon. Political consultant Dan Payne, who worked for Deval Patrick very early in his campaign, said those back-to-back interviews can mean only one thing.
"He's running," Payne said. "He's running for governor and he's starting now. He's got to raise money. I know he's got $3 million in the bank, but he needs to raise at least that and maybe more because he isn't going to have the institutional supports that being a Democrat or a Republican candidate allows you."
Thanks to visits from former President Bill Clinton and then-Senator Barack Obama, Patrick was able to raise up to $2 million in one night when he ran for governor.
Asked about Cahill's decision Tuesday, Gov. Patrick had little to say. "He can do whatever he wants," Patrick said. "There are views on both sides — on multiple sides of every issue — and if he is going to be a candidate, then fine, we'll talk all about that in the course of the campaign. He should bring his A game."
Among the South Shore politicians who know and like Cahill is state Rep. Jim Cantwell of Marshfield. Cantwell wishes Cahill was staying to represent fiscal conservatives within the Democratic party. He thinks Cahill is leaving the party now, before a primary challenge against Gov. Patrick, in order to scare away Charlie Baker.
Baker is the head of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and he's expected to decide this summer whether he'll run for the Republican nomination for governor against Cape Cod businessman Christie Mihos.
"I think if you're Charlie Baker, I think you have to look at this and say that he now would have a primary race with a well-funded Christie Mihos, and then would have an uncertain ability to take conservative Democrat votes in a three-way race," Cantwell said. "So it's going to make things far more complicated for someone like Charlie Baker."
Cahill's decision to leave the party has launched another race. On Monday, former Democratic National Committee Chairman Steve Grossman announced that he is running for Cahill's job as treasurer. Grossman said he did not discuss his decision with Cahill.
Among the other Democrats who have expressed interest in Cahill's job are Norfolk County Treasurer Joe Connolly and state Rep. Steve Walsh of Lynn.
So, 16 months before the election, the campaigns for governor and for treasurer are under way.
This program aired on July 8, 2009.