Tim for Governor?
Tim Cahill is talking like Scott Brown and Sarah Palin. But is he carrying too much politics-as-usual baggage?


Michael Graham

‘Is Tim Cahill the real deal?”

That’s the question I started getting asked last week after the Massachusetts treasurer, who is running for governor as an independent, launched his high-profile attack on our local version of Obamacare.

If President Obama and the Democrats repeat the mistake of the health-insurance reform here in Massachusetts on a national level,” Cahill declared, “they will threaten to wipe out the American economy within four years.”

It was enough to make a tea-partier shake his pitchfork with joy. Which was the point.

By the most important measure — the $3 million sitting in his campaign account — Tim Cahill is a serious candidate. Perhaps more important, Tim Cahill is a smart candidate, a political opportunist who has no problem adjusting his message to fit current political facts.

And the most significant political fact in Massachusetts is that the incumbent governor, Democrat Deval Patrick, is very unpopular. For more than a year, his approval rating has been below 40 percent, occasionally dipping into the teens. At the same time, the Republican brand took a huge beating during the Bush years, and the thinking a year ago was that the only thing less popular than Deval Patrick would be any Republican running against him.

Enter “independent” Tim Cahill.

Republicans point out that Cahill was a lifelong Democrat who never expressed any problems with his party until Patrick’s poll numbers began to sag. And that’s true. But it’s also true that in 2008, Tim Cahill was the only statewide Democratic officeholder who was denied a slot as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. So when Cahill argues that there’s legitimate tension between himself and the far-Left-dominated state party, he has a point.

But ask Massachusetts voters and, according to recent polls, only a quarter of them view Cahill as actually independent, as opposed to about half who see him as a Democrat who just really wants to be governor.

However Cahill got there, being the candidate who isn’t Deval Patrick and isn’t a Republican looked like a smart place to be six months ago. Then came the Scott Brown revolution, when independents and even some conservative Democrats got over their GOP aversion long enough to vote against Obamacare.

The all-but-certain GOP nominee — health-insurance executive Charlie Baker — began to surge. The state party, which a few months ago was one step away from begging for donations on street corners, raised $300,000 last month and actually had more cash on hand than the Democrats. That same month, Baker and his running mate, state senator Rich Tisei, raised more than $700,000.

Treasurer Cahill? Less than $150,000. That’s after having raised around $700,000 in the last quarter of 2009.