To hear Republican Charles Baker on the campaign trail, you’d think Gov. Deval Patrick chose Treasurer Timothy Cahill to be his running mate four years ago.
In speeches, debates and TV ads, Baker complains about the “Patrick-Cahill” tenure on Beacon Hill, saying it has boosted government spending and tax rates. He even printed up mock Patrick-Cahill campaign signs and bumper stickers last week.
The problem is Patrick ran both in 2006 and again this year with Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray, a fellow Democrat. Cahill is an independent, and he holds a completely different constitutional office from Patrick or Murray.
Baker’s deliberate blurring of that distinction highlights his concern about facing not one but two rivals in this year’s gubernatorial race.
Patrick, a Democrat, is the incumbent and obvious target. Baker is branding him a tax-and-spend liberal.
But Cahill is also seeking the support of the same fiscally conservative voters as Baker. If he gets enough, he wins; if he only gets a small fraction, as polls are projecting, it could weaken Baker such that Patrick wins re-election with less than half the vote he would need in a head-to-head race.
“They obviously feel that is the missing piece of the puzzle: for independents to realize that Cahill is not truly independent, that he is still part of the Beacon Hill establishment, that he has failed as an insider, like Patrick,” said Republican political analyst Tom Domke.
And that realization, Domke says, is prompting Baker to try to link Cahill, a former Democrat, to Patrick at every opportunity.
“Higher taxes and fewer jobs. The taxpayers cannot afford four more years of Gov. Patrick and Treasurer Cahill. It’s time to bring in a new team,” Baker said last week. Underscoring his effort to join the two, he held a news conference at a house straddling their Milton and Quincy hometowns.
“Treasurer Cahill helped the governor secure the nomination. He campaigned with him. He helped him get elected. And then, for the next four years, they’ve governed together up on Beacon Hill, as we’ve lost 100,000 jobs here in Massachusetts,” Baker said.
Patrick and Cahill are united — in sloughing off the criticism.
“I think that is what it is, right? Which is another device to confuse the public,” the governor said.
Cahill said: “Charlie’s idea is if we just link them together and ‘throw the bums out,’ then that’s an effective campaign strategy. And I don’t think people respond to it because I left the Democratic Party in a dispute over taxes. Why would I agree with the governor and have left the party if I was part of his administration?”
Baker’s statements are just the latest example of politics making strange bedfellows, especially in this campaign.
Patrick’s campaign in 2006, as well as this year, is being run by political consultant Doug Rubin. Cahill knows him well, since Rubin was his political adviser in 2002, when Cahill moved from Norfolk County treasurer to the Statehouse.
That was the campaign in which Cahill first used his children in a television commercial, a clip from which is now being recycled in one of the candidate’s current ads.
Rubin went on to work under Cahill, serving as first deputy treasurer — the top administration post in the office. But he left after a falling out, and has since gone on to not only be Patrick’s chief of staff, but his top campaign adviser.
Despite their political and personal differences, Patrick and Cahill have a common interest in this campaign: beating Baker.
Baker and the Republican Governors Association carpet-bombed the two of them throughout the summer with $2 million worth of negative ads. That helped drive down both Patrick and Cahill’s poll ratings, while improving Baker’s.
Now Cahill is delighting as the Democratic Governors Association comes to Patrick’s aid, with a new anti-Baker ad that mimics Big Dig criticisms both the governor and treasurer have made about the Republican.
Patrick has even taken to complimenting Cahill repeatedly in their debates, just enough of an embrace to keep Cahill from appearing to be a fringe candidate, but not enough to be a real threat to the governor.
“I agree with Tim that the focus has to be on growing jobs,” Patrick said at one point last week during a debate on WTKK-FM. “Tim is exactly right by calling attention to the (education) achievement gap,” the governor said later.
The mutual admiration underscores Baker’s rationale for linking Patrick and Cahill, even if they are running against each other, even if they are not in the same political party, even if there are bad feelings between their staffs.
Baker notes Cahill endorsed Patrick just before the hotly contested 2006 gubernatorial primary. Then he campaigned with him against the Republican nominee, Kerry Healey.
“I think in some ways, he’s the CFO on Beacon Hill,” Baker said of Cahill. “If he has positions on some of these issues that were different than the governor’s, he had every opportunity — with the bully pulpit and everything else — to make his opinions known on that, and he didn’t.”