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If executions of electoral rudiments were homework, Tim Cahill's pooch would be in danger of a perforated stomach lining.
The treasurer, a political Independent, gifted Republican Charles Baker's campaign Tuesday with another shell for its fusillade on Cahill for one of the most damaging of political narratives: competency.
It goes like this: Treasurer, you, running for the highest office in the commonwealth, could not figure out whether or not you should vote in the Tuesday primary? And you, as the state's chief financial officer, could not determine whether or not to pay taxes on campaign fund investments?
Not the best week for Cahill, whose amen corner in the polls has spavined to 5 percent in a poll out Friday that included "leaners" - voters pressed with a follow-up question about their preference. Gov. Deval Patrick: 45, Baker: 42.
Cahill likely did not help himself greatly with Tuesday's indecision over whether or not to vote — he did, after receiving written confirmation from Secretary of State William Galvin that he would not forfeit his unenrolled status by pulling a party ballot — and then with his signal during remarks to a business group Wednesday that he would go along with national education standards, a retreat from his earlier opposition to them.
That latter maneuver prompted bellowing from Baker, now in an ardent bear-hug with his Angry White Male Persona, a prototype that appears to be faring quite nicely this election cycle nationally.
Tuesday's statewide primary did not unimpeachably prove that dynamic on a state level. While other states were busy electing candidates a few months ago deemed unfit for victory over far better established pols, only one lawmaker lost her seat Tuesday — Pam Richardson, Democrat of Framingham — thereby proving the old adage that one of the most difficult feats in modern politics is losing a Massachusetts legislative seat. U.S. Rep. Steve Lynch whupped up on fellow unionist Mac D'Alessandro.
In the most closely watched congressional race, the 10th District, Republican Jeff Perry overcame concerns about his conduct as a police officer to slam former state Treasurer Joe Malone, and Norfolk County District Attorney William Keating handled state Sen. Robert O'Leary.
Vying to succeed Cahill are Democrat Steve Grossman and Republican Karyn Polito, who offered one of the best debate moments of the season during their sit-down on WCVB. Like watching two hockey players who toss the sticks before the puck drops. And Suzanne Bump easily outpointed Guy Glodis and Mike Lake in the Democratic primary for auditor, stacking her up against Republican Mary Connaughton in November.
While the down-ballot slugfests could be riveting — Grossman and Polito next to each other leave the impression that the state's choice for treasurer during this fiscal storm is a selection based on minimal wind shear — it's the perpetually debating gentlemen at the top who will make this fall what it's going to be. Green-Rainbow candidate Jill Stein keeps getting excluded from debates, based not on her performance in them but on her failure to get up off the floor in the polls or raise significant amounts of cash.
Cahill, gamely working to prevent a less-severe strain of the same dynamic, claimed over $125,000 raised during a Thursday night rally, and aides said his internal polls show him in the 18-20 percent range, a "strong second choice" for the anti-Patrickians in the electorate. "We expect support to go to us before it goes to Patrick as Baker bleeds," campaign spokeswoman Amy Birmingham emailed Friday.
Problem is, while the night is still but a kitten, it won't for much longer, and Baker's not losing pints the way Cahill needs him to. If that doesn't happen soon, then the Mihosian prophecy of unenrolled candidates' inexorable doom will be fulfilled.
At the same time, Cahill's heavy wane was supposed to translate to Baker overtaking the governor. If Cahill's down to 5, as Baker's people crowed Friday, how many more voters do you expect to take from the poor guy in order to beat the governor? In other words: Have you no decency, Baker campaign manager Tim O'Brien?
The governor has downplayed the notion of his own reelection as an early tell for the president's own prospects, perhaps in part because the national currents are lilting against the latter. Here in the Bay State, President Obama remains likeable enough, according to Friday's Rasmussen poll, earning a 54-45 job approval rating. If either Democrats or Republicans nationally opt to underscore the broader wallop of the governor's race here, it automatically takes the volume up to 11, with mixed implications for both sides.
There's been a bit of that already, the Republican Governors Association going Dresden on Cahill, and the Democratic Governors Association joined in this week, going up with its own campaign trying to shackle Baker to the Big Dig, that lyric little road project that employed thousands, gave us the Greenway, and remains in the body politic as an evidently inescapable toxic.
Magically released moments after the governor announced them during a radio debate Thursday — synergy! — the August jobs numbers were open to interpretation, good news for Patrick because they marked seven straight months of job growth and shaved the unemployment rate below the 9-percent threshold, to 8.8 percent, evidence of the guv's shoulder at the wheel. To Baker and Cahill, they were smoking-gun proof that Patrick is either insufficiently focused or just plain off-the-mark with his economic policies.
If Baker is to make this happen — if he's to topple a historic figure in state history while shooing away an unpredictable candidate with a good chunk of change in the bank, convincing the electorate of its own error in selecting Patrick in the first place, which the Commonwealth has been historically loath to do — it's increasingly clear he can't just sideline Cahill. He needs to start siphoning from Patrick, to subtract from Patrick where it hurts, among the swings and the centrists.
And that'd be the katy-bar-the-door swivel of the campaign, two guys in the arena who haven't lost an election since high school, throwing hands and talking big issues, with, to paraphrase, nothing riding on it except the tax code, the contours of the public education system, and maybe the future of the Commonwealth.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Cahill, just about in extremis.
This program aired on September 17, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.
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