In Massachusetts, all eyes are turned towards the Senate race but next year’s gubernatorial election is about to get just as interesting. State Treasurer Tim Cahill just announced that he will run for Governor as an independent, setting up a general election date with incumbent Deval Patrick and a Republican still to be determined.
A lifelong Democrat, Cahill left the party earlier this year, prompting speculation that he wanted to run for Governor without having to go through the Democratic primary. He made sure to emphasize substantive differences with the Democratic Party not to simply look like an opportunist or a spoiler. He touted himself as a fiscal conservative, emphasized his support for lowering spending and cutting taxes - especially the sales tax. That message might have allowed him to clinch a plurality win in a crowded primary for state Treasurer, but it would made it difficult for him to beat an incumbent in a one-on-one race.
He stands a far better chance in the general election, however. The political situation in Massachusetts is in many ways similar to that of New Jersey: The Democratic Governor is very unpopular, but the majority of voters are such reliable Democrats that they are reluctant to support a Republican if they have any other course of action. With Cahill’s candidacy, many voters who are looking to get rid of Patrick will jump on the opportunity to do so without having to vote for a Republican - thus casting a ballot for Cahill.
As such, he can hope to reach a plurality by coalescing a coalition of independents and disaffected Democrats; if he emerges as Patrick’s main rival, he could even convince some Republicans to vote for him. But complicating matters is that I can also think of cogent arguments as to why his entrance will help Patrick or the Republican nominee.
Why it could help the GOP: Massachusetts is a blue enough state that it would be tough for the Republican nominee to reach 50% when facing an incumbent, however unpopular that governor might be. It’s far easier to imagine Charlie Mihos or Charlie Baker clinching a victory with just 35%-40% of the vote, with Cahill and Patrick splitting the rest. (Note: Mihos is denying reports that he is considering jumping in the Senate race.)
Why it could help Patrick: The Governor’s numbers are so low that he should expect massive defections from voters who would typically vote Democratic, putting him in the same predicament as Corzine. As such, it is unclear whether he could break out of the low 40s range in a two-way race. Yet, that might not be a problem in a 3-way race: Massachusetts is blue enough that there must be a floor below which no Democratic nominee will fall. That makes it tough to see Patrick getting less than 30%, which puts him much closer to a 3-way plurality victory than a 2-way majority victory.
In short: Massachusetts looks set to host a highly competitive Governor’s contest in which 3 candidates will have a good chance of winning. A July Boston Globe poll found Cahill and Patrick tied with the Republican nominees trailing but still in contention.
Meanwhile, the Senate landscape is getting clearer
Things are unfolding so quickly in the special Senate election that I have renounced offering play-by-play coverage - not to mention that I already devoted enough time to the state yesterday. Since then, former Rep. Marty Meehan announced he would not run, joining former Rep. Joe Kennedy on the sidelines; interestingly, Meehan did not rule out seeking office in the future, and he does have more than $5 million sitting in the bank.
Meanwhile, Rep. Mike Capuano signaled he would get in the race; he thus joined Stephen Lynch and Martha Coakley as the only Democrats who have gotten their hand on any paperwork. That leaves JeffJohn Tierney and Ed Markey as the only Democrats not to have clearly indicated what they are planning on doing. If either of them runs, it could make the primary more difficult for Capuano and easier for Lynch.
Indeed, Lynch finds himself at the right of the primary field, so the more crowded the race the better his chance of clinching the nomination with a plurality of the vote. Even then it is somewhat difficult for me to figure out what could be Lynch’s path to the nomination. After all, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to count on the same level of union support he enjoyed when he ran for the House in 2001: Not only is he the only Democrat on the list of Senate candidates to have supported the Peru Trade Promotion Act, but his public option hesitations are visibly straining his relationship with labor.
But it looks like the candidate who stands to benefit the most from a crowded race is Coakley. Her profile as the only non-representative and only woman to consider the race will make it easy for her to differentiate herself from the rest of the pack, so the more congressmen jump in, telescoping each other’s messages, the better for the Attorney General. A new Rasmussen poll - the first of the special election - finds her with a solid lead, with 38% of the vote; Lynch gets 11%, Markey 10%, Capuano 7% and Tierney 3%. The latter 3 congressmen will have a chance to increase their support as they introduce themselves to voters statewide, but can they really hope to close the gap if more than one of them is running?