Barring a miracle, Massachusetts Republicans may not have any realistic chance of winning Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat but they did have a pretty good shot at taking the governorship away from Deval Patrick. Unless Tim Cahill stops them. I reported in July that Cahill, a Democrat-turned-independent state treasurer, may run for governor as a fiscal conservative. Today he decided to take the plunge.
Cahill could effect the race in one of three ways. First, his support — strong in polls being taken right now — could melt away as the election approaches. Massachusetts has no tradition of strong independent or third-party challenges when there is a competitive race between two major-party candidates. When the Republicans failed to run a serious candidate for Senate against Kennedy in 2000, Libertarian Carla Howell got 12 percent of the vote. But in 2002, when there was a competitive race between Republican Mitt Romney and Democrat Shannon O’Brien, Howell got only 1 percent of the vote for governor.
Some people point to Ross Perot as an exception to this rule. He got 23 percent of the vote in Massachusetts in 1992. I don’t count him as an exception. George H.W. Bush got just 25 percent to Bill Clinton’s 52 percent. There wasn’t a competitive Republican in that race. Both GOP candidates for governor, Charlie Baker and Christy Mihos, have the potential to be competitive.
The second possibility is that Cahill could become the anti-Patrick candidate and it will be the Republican nominee whose support melts aways as people realize they are not an effective way to oust the incumbent. It’s possible — Cahill was won two statewide races, is a current statewide officeholder, has millions of dollars on hand, and seems poised to be able to take away some of the GOP’s issues. On the other hand, both Baker and Mihos have enough sway with GOP activists to keep the party from informally supporting Cahill. And the extent of Cahill’s fiscal conservatism is still something of a question mark.
The third scenario — the one borne out by the last round of polling I’ve seen on this question — suggests that Cahill and the Republicans will divide the anti-Patrick vote. That means that Cahill’s entry into the race could carve up the opposition just enough to let an unpopular incumbent governor sneak back into office. Only time will tell.