The Gov's Race: What Now?

By Adam Reilly

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Even if you're a big Suzanne Bump devotee -- or are working like crazy to getting Bill Hudak elected to Congress -- you'd probably agree that the biggest, best political story of last week was the freakishly dysfunctional Massachusetts governor's race. A recap: On October 1, independent Tim Cahill's running mate Paul Loscocco dropped out and endorsed Republican Charlie Baker, saying that Cahill simply couldn't win. Then, on Thursday, Cahill's campaign filed suit against four former campaign staffers, charging they helped arrange Loscocco's defection while they were still on Cahill's payroll (!). Cahill's campaign also got an temporary injunction keeping those ex-staffers from providing any new info to the Baker campaign -- which the Cahill campaign claims played a key role in Loscocco's betrayal. And then -- just when it seemed things couldn't get any crazier -- Loscocco fired off a Friday-afternoon statement in which he accused Cahill of colluding with former advisor Doug Rubin, now a key advisor to Democratic incumbent Deval Patrick, AND with the Democratic Governors' Association in an effort to bring Baker down.

Yes, it's all very, very confusing. It's also been a lot of fun to watch. Until Loscocco bailed out a week and a half ago, the 2010 governor's race had been kind of a snoozer. No candidate was generating the sort of excitement Patrick created four years ago. What's more, there was a distinct lack of the inside-baseball drama that marked the entire '06 campaign. (Remember Marie St. Fleur's LG bid? How about Killer Coke-gate?) Now, all of a sudden, the 2010 race is making 2006 look downright sedate. But how will the wackiness of the past week affect the campaign?

Let's start by considering Friday's Loscocco missive. If the charges leveled by Loscocco are legit, and Cahill embraced a spoiler role in order to get Patrick re-elected -- well, that's a bombshell that could conceivably clinch this thing for Baker. (Among other things, the implied coordination between the DGA and the Patrick campaign would be illegal.)

At this point, though, it's hard to take Loscocco's claims seriously. When Loscocco explained his defection at Baker's HQ eight days ago, there wasn't a single reference to dastardly coordination between Cahill, Patrick and the DGA. Instead, Loscocco's comments were pretty bland: Cahill and I made our case to voters, they didn't buy it, and now anyone who supports Cahill risks getting Patrick re-elected. Fast forward a week and Loscocco's telling us that he jumped ship after discovering an incredibly Machiavellian political plot. If so, why didn't he mention that in the first place? (I asked a Loscocco spokesman about this strange omission/delay, but still haven't heard back.)

Meanwhile, Loscocco's defection -- which seemed like a total coup for Baker a week or so ago -- suddenly looks like the worst thing that could have happened to the GOP candidate's campaign. Baker should be making his final case to voters right now; instead, he has to talk about Loscocco-gate and what he did or didn't know. And the story isn't going away. In fact, when the parties return to court next Wednesday, it could get even bigger. If I'm Baker, I'm wishing that October 1 presser never happened.

And Cahill? As Greater Boston's Beat the Press noted on Friday, Cahill was the beneficiary of some major media love after Loscocco jumped ship. But I'm skeptical that the press's sympathy -- and any similar pity from the electorate -- are going to put Cahill in a position to actually win this thing. The last Rasmussen poll had Cahill down around 6 percent among likely voters; meanwhile, Patrick was pushing fifty and Baker was just a few points behind. Even taking Rasmussen's pro-GOP leanings into account, that's an incredible amount of ground to make up. What's more, even if Cahill was wronged by his running mate and ex-staffers -- and the email trail suggests that he was -- his campaign is still plagued by some serious intellectual inconsistencies. Those aren't going away.

Meanwhile, the governor can be forgiven if he's feeling like Fate's chosen candidate. My former Boston Phoenix colleague David Bernstein recently noted how odd it is that Patrick has any hope of victory at all. But now, as his opponents and their surrogates trade barbs over this bizarre political subplot and the media covers every new twist and turn, Patrick can take the high road, talking up his administration's accomplishments and offering a demure "no comment" when he's asked about the Loscocco freak show.

At first, Patrick didn't seem to realize that was the way to go. Instead, the governor seemed inclined to play it cute: he told the press about a slightly unctious consolation call he'd paid to Cahill, for example, and also called Loscocco's defection "tacky." But now, it seemed, someone has convinced the governor to pipe down and keep his distance. That's a smart shift. The longer Loscocco-gate goes on -- and the longer Patrick can stay out of the story -- the better his chances of re-election become.

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Adam Reilly Adam Reilly
Adam Reilly is a political reporter and associate producer for WGBH's Greater Boston.

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