‘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.
Cahill, who has no organization behind him, is now facing a GOP with a solid slate of candidates for Congress and the state legislature organizing across the state. Cahill is also facing an incumbent governor who, according to the front page of today’s Boston Globe, is “back in the game,” thanks in part to “the evolving dynamic of the three-way gubernatorial race.” If this trend continues, Cahill is going to face the question that kills almost every independent candidacy when the two major parties have competitive candidates: Who needs you?
Cahill’s answer? Blue-collar Democrats, that’s who.
Cahill, with the help of John McCain’s political advisers John Weaver and John Yob, is making like Sarah Palin. Regular guy Tim Cahill, whose website is the aw-shucks Timforgovernor.com, is hoping that class warfare and tea-party anger will deliver for him in November.
“He’s the only candidate that can relate to the everyman voter that is so vital to Massachusetts politics,” Weaver says of Cahill, as opposed to Baker, whom Weaver calls “King Charlie.” Baker, according to the Cahill campaign, is a wealthy insurance-executive elitist who can’t possibly relate to the voters. And so the Cahill narrative unfolds: You can’t vote for tax-raising Deval Patrick because he takes too much of your money; and you can’t vote for Charlie Baker because he has too much money of his own.
Cahill’s campaign is fundamentally cultural, not ideological. He’s a likeable guy, the candidate you’d most like to have a beer with. But a conservative with principled opposition to Obamacare or high taxes?
Not so much.
For example, Cahill was state treasurer in 2006 when the Democratic legislature and Republican governor Mitt Romney passed the “Romneycare” plan, but he never expressed any concerns at the time. In fact, a search of the Boston Globe database for the entire year 2006 doesn’t reveal a single news article in which Cahill even mentions the health-care-reform plan. He now says he supported Romneycare because “We didn’t know how much it was going to cost” — an odd admission for the state’s top financial officer.
And while Cahill’s recent criticisms of Romneycare have been largely on target, he believes the solution is to end the fee-for-service system. He supports a “global payment” model, also known as “capitation,” which has been suggested by Governor Patrick. Under this system, the government mandates that doctors receive a flat fee per patient, regardless of the medical care given.
Hardly Milton Friedman, to say the least.
Then there’s Cahill’s support for labor unions — in particular, public-sector unions. The same week that news stories were reporting that some municipal employees have health-insurance premiums of $40,000 a year, Cahill promised to oppose any attempt to roll back union benefits. He has even opposed a Charlie Baker proposal to cap government-employee pensions at $100,000 a year.
As for tax cuts, Cahill now supports Baker’s position of rolling back the income-tax rate to 5 percent from its current 5.3 percent, but as recently as January he opposed it, saying an income-tax cut wouldn’t create jobs.
Cahill is also being dogged by ethical questions. He has taken lots of campaign money from folks who do business with the treasurer’s office, and he is being sued by a vendor alleging favoritism in the handing out of lottery contracts. So far, it appears Cahill hasn’t done anything illegal, but he has hardly shown a tea-partier’s aversion to politics as usual.
Will the blue-collar, tea-party “everyman” voter reject “King Charlie” in favor of Tim Cahill? Maybe. But the most recent polling shows Scott Brown supporters breaking for Baker by a 20-point margin. Worse for Cahill, Charlie Baker was just endorsed by the man himself, Senator Brown.
Baker isn’t a terrific candidate, and his own positions on health care and taxes are nuanced enough to give him problems with voters looking for anti-establishment, “throw the bums out” clarity.
But the fact remains that voters who want a real Democrat have Governor Patrick; and the ones who want to vote against Patrick have Charlie Baker. Who needs an “independent” who was a Democrat just a few months ago, and who was for Romneycare until he was against it?
And how many more adjustments can Cahill make before voters decide that what he really believes in is getting votes for Tim Cahill?
– Michael Graham is an NRO contributor and author of the new book That’s No Angry Mob, That’s My Mom (Regnery, 2010).