Independent Tim Cahill shakes up Massachusetts governor race

Matt Purple Fellow, Defense Priorities
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Tim Cahill never expected his name to come up in a White House meeting.

The Massachusetts state treasurer had spent a lot of time warning about the dire condition of the Bay State’s finances. Of particular concern was Commonwealth Care, Massachusetts’ state-run health care system. Cahill claimed Commonwealth Care blew a massive hole in his state’s budget, and would have bankrupted the state if it weren’t for federal bailout funds.

That didn’t sit well with the White House, which was then pushing for a national health care reform bill based on the Massachusetts experiment.

“According to my source who was in the meeting with [David] Axelrod and [Rahm] Emanuel, I don’t know exactly how they described me, but basically my comments were giving Republicans their talking points,” Cahill told The Daily Caller.

“The message got back to me: You’d better shut up. This is your president. This is your Party. And you’re going to ruin things as we work towards taking the Massachusetts model and making it work for the rest of the country,” he said.

Cahill didn’t shut up. He took his criticisms of health care reform to a national audience, appearing on Glenn Beck’s Fox News show and publishing a couple op-eds in the Wall Street Journal. He also left the Democratic Party, registered as an independent, and is now running for governor of Massachusetts.

“I realized between taxes and this move towards national health care, if this is where my Party is going, I couldn’t remain in it in good conscience,” he said.

Four years after it was enacted, many would argue that Cahill was right about Commonwealth Care. Costs have exploded, with the entire package costing $4 billion — 450% of what was initially projected — so far. Health insurance premiums in Massachusetts are the highest in the country and have only gone up since reform was passed. Seven hospitals are suing the state for being underpaid for treating Commonwealth Care patients.

But Cahill’s criticisms have put the former state treasurer in a somewhat unique position. He’s running against liberal Democratic Governor Deval Patrick and establishment Republican Charlie Baker as arguably the most conservative candidate in the race and one who played a role in the most significant political battle of the past two years.

Tim Cahill may just be the most important candidate you’ve never heard of.

The Republican Governor’s Association certainly thinks so. They’ve poured close to $2 million into advertising in Massachusetts, primarily to attack Cahill.*

They’re worried for a reason. Patrick is the most unpopular governor in the country, with an approval rating of 22%. But with two other candidates vying for his job, he may still hold onto power. A recent Rasmussen poll found Patrick leading both Baker and Cahill with 39% support. Baker netted 34% and Cahill came in third with only 18%.

NEXT: Cahill courting disaffected Democrats
Cahill is depending on a late-game pickup in the polls. He argues that eventually his campaign will find broad support.

“I believe I’ll pick up and maybe take more Democrats from Deval Patrick as I will Republicans or independents from Charlie Baker,” he said.

“There’s a lot of angry and disaffected Democrats, there’s a lot of union members, working class people, who don’t feel Deval Patrick has done anything for them and done anything for the state,” he added.

Cahill said he became concerned about Massachusetts’ finances after the financial collapse in 2008. He met with Governor Patrick, state Speaker of the House Sal DiMasi, and state Senate President Therese Murray to warn that spending needed to be tamped down.

“I was ignored with all three parties,” he said.

Cahill supports cutting taxes, particularly the state sales tax which he wants reduced from 6.25% to 5%. (Baker supports this as well.) He wants significant cuts in state spending and action taken on Commonwealth Care, which he claims is causing a fiscal calamity. He’s also called for Massachusetts to strictly enforce illegal immigration laws even when the federal government won’t.

Much of the race thus far has been a contest between Cahill and Baker to see who can claim the title of Beacon Hill outsider. Baker has tried to tie Cahill to the Patrick administration, pointing out his endorsement of Patrick in 2006 and claiming he mismanaged the state’s finances.

Cahill calls Baker a “William Weld Republican” – referring to the former moderate Republican governor of Massachusetts who earned himself the ire of many conservatives. He says Baker, a former health insurance CEO, represents big business and Patrick represents big government, which too often are in collusion.

“I think they are far more similar to each other than Charlie Baker and I are similar,” Cahill told TheDC.

The result of these tensions has been a center-right civil war in an unlikely state. Baker’s campaign and the RGA have dug furiously for dirt on Cahill. They recently unearthed that Cahill owed $24,000 in campaign taxes to the state. Cahill admitted to the debt and promptly paid back the sum.

The attacks on Cahill have been incredibly effective. A poll taken last summer by MassInsight, a nonprofit think tank, had Cahill and Patrick tied at 20% and Baker with 19%. Since then, Baker and Patrick have gained significantly while Cahill’s numbers have stagnated.

Cahill’s campaign has gone after Baker for his role as financial advisor to former Republican Gov. Paul Cellucci during the Big Dig highway construction project in Boston. The Big Dig is widely considered a massive failure of government pork, having cost roughly $16 billion more than originally projected after adjusting for inflation.

Cahill has also hit Baker for advising former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney on health care, labeling Baker an “author of RomneyCare.”

Cahill grew up in the Boston suburb of Quincy, the son of a maintenance worker. A graduate of Boston University, he opened a small restaurant called Handshakes Café in downtown Quincy, which he owned for 13 years. He entered politics shortly after college, serving as both a Quincy city councilor and Norfolk County’s treasurer before being elected Massachusetts state treasurer in 2002.

It’s an image that could help him against Baker, who is the quintessential company executive, and who has been criticized in the Massachusetts press for seeming dour. Cahill comes off as a mixture of policy wonk and Boston edge, rattling off budget figures in his thick New England accent.

NEXT: Can Cahill win?

But can Cahill win? Radio host and Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr doesn’t think so. Carr, thought by many to be the voice of conservatism in Boston, recently wrote a stinging op-ed calling on Cahill to drop out of the race.

“So Tim Cahill, let me be blunt. How can we miss you if you won’t go away?” Carr wrote.

In the meantime, Cahill is still hoping for that late-game rally – and trying to dissuade people that Baker is a conservative standard-bearer.

“Charlie Baker is not Scott Brown. And I think that’s a huge distinction,” he said.

*Correction: The article originally misstated that the RGA ran the very first commercial in the gubernatorial race. The first commercial was a Super Bowl ad by Tim Cahill.