Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, saddled with a weak economy and an anti-incumbent mood in the electorate, should be smiling after a week that saw his two rivals go after other with a gusto that ought to cheer anyone not in the crossfire. But Patrick had no reason to be sanguine about his bid for a second term as recent polls show him in a virtual dead heat with the Republican candidate.
The GOP's Charles Baker was thought to be gaining ground on Patrick, but may be set back by charges this week that his organization tried to get a hold of damaging inside information about independent candidate Timothy Cahill's campaign
have Baker and Democrat Patrick in a close contest. The Boston Globe
in late September put the governor one percentage point ahead -- with 35 percent of the sample -- while the Western New England College Polling Institute had him six points up. Hoping to finish strong, Patrick has his friend, President Obama, coming to Boston on Oct. 16
to campaign for him.
But Cahill, a former Democrat who is the state treasurer, is a wild card. He filed a lawsuit
Thursday, accusing his former top strategists of scheming to doom his campaign by planning to give damaging information to Baker. The Boston Globe
reported it under the headline, "In this political thriller, there aren't any good guys."
The lawsuit cites e-mails in which the former aides allegedly orchestrated the departure of Cahill's lieutenant governor running mate, Paul Loscocco, who quit the ticket and endorsed Baker. The complaint, charging breach of contract and unfair trade practices, seeks to stop three ex-Cahill staffers from handing over any strategic information to Baker or the Republican Governors Association. Baker and his campaign manager are accused of trying to get negative info from the aides to use against Cahill in the closing weeks of the campaign.
But Andrew Meldrum, one of the named former Cahill assistants, says the lawsuit is simply designed to prevent him from blowing the whistle on improper television advertising
and possible misuse of taxpayer funds by the Cahill campaign.
In an early victory for Cahill, a Norfolk Superior Court judge issued a temporary restraining order
, blocking the former staffers from sharing information about his campaign with rivals.
Issues? At a debate in Cambridge earlier this week, Patrick said his two challengers were "talking the commonwealth down"
with their discussion of how bad things are. "Sometimes I listen to my colleagues here and I wonder where the can-do attitude of America has gone," he said. Baker, a budget chief under former Republican Gov. William Weld, said the state's business climate is clouded by high taxes and burdensome regulation, discouraging corporations from creating jobs. Cahill said taxes should be cut across the board to assist all businesses and industries.
Before the debate, Cahill actually seemed energized by the defections
of Loscocco and his staffers, saying the "unprecedented insiders play" established him as the true outsider in the three-way contest, the AP said. "They don't understand honor and commitment," he said of the defectors. "I will continue running and continue honoring my commitment to everyone who believes that we cannot continue business as usual on Beacon Hill (Boston's Statehouse)."
Confused? It gets worse. Loscocco's name will still appear on the ballot on Nov. 2, right next to Cahill's, because the election documents are already printed. That means if
Cahill wins, Loscocco would be elected as lieutenant governor since the offices are voted on in tandem, as with president and vice president. If that happens -- and the independent hopeful is trailing in third place in polls -- Cahill said he would ask Loscocco to resign. "I don't know what kind of job he (Loscocco) was promised to do this," he said of his former running mate's switch to Baker.
Maurice Cunningham, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts, said the turmoil -- the charges and counter-charges -- is "a reminder of the worst of what people suspect about politics, and that hurts Baker because he's running as the outside candidate."
Cahill is apparently attracting voters from both the Republican and Democratic camps, according to the Globe poll
, which goes against the conventional wisdom that his candidacy hurts Baker more by dividing the anti-incumbent, anti-Patrick vote. But Cahill has faded and polled only 11 percent in the survey taken Sept. 17-22 of 522 Mass residents.
Patrick has been wounded by the lagging Massachusetts economy, as 41 percent in the Globe's sample said they were worse off than they were a year ago. And this heavily Democratic state is winnable for a Republican in a governor's race as attested to by Baker's old boss, Weld, and also Mitt Romney
But does the ill-will between Baker and Cahill ultimately help the governor's campaign. "To be determined," said a Democratic consultant familiar with Massachusetts politics. "Overnight it makes Cahill an outsider and Baker an insider."