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Joan Vennochi

The Cahill factor

By Joan Vennochi
Globe Columnist / January 11, 2010

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CALL HIM the loner in love with his ambition to be governor.

At Boston Mayor Tom Menino’s recent swearing-in, state Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill was the guy at the cocktail party who is looking for someone to talk to, but keeps on striking out. Before the ceremony began, he stood solo at the front of Faneuil Hall, while top Democrats like Senate President Therese Murray and Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo chatted enthusiastically with Anyone But Tim.

When the event got underway, only an empty chair separated Cahill from Governor Deval Patrick, the incumbent he switched parties to run against. For long awkward minutes, the governor and the treasurer looked anywhere but at each other. Finally, Patrick leaned across the space that was supposed to be filled by Secretary of State Bill Galvin and whispered something to Cahill. According to Cahill, Patrick was responding to a joke Cahill made about Galvin’s absence.

"The governor is a little chilly," Cahill acknowledged in an interview afterwards. "But I am running against him .... I wouldn’t blame him if he’s not feeling all that warm and fuzzy with me."

One Cahill confidante said that ever since Cahill left the Democratic Party last year to run as an independent, the treasurer has been ‘‘ostracized’’ by members of his former party. Cahill insists the response is more nuanced. According to Cahill, ‘‘John Walsh (the state Democratic party chairman and a Patrick devotee) and the governor’s insiders have been aghast and angry with me ... but the rank and file have treated me pretty well’’.

The brush-off doesn’t bother him. ‘‘If I had a thin skin, I would have been gone a long time ago,’’ he said.

Patrick might not like Cahill’s critiques of his administration. Still, he should be pleased Cahill is in the race. The most recent Boston Globe poll confirms the current conventional wisdom about the 2010 gubernatorial contest. In a three-way match-up that includes Cahill and Republican Charlie Baker, Patrick wins, garnering support from 30 percent of those surveyed. Cahill comes in second, with support from 23 percent and Baker comes in third, with 19 percent.

As Cahill points out, ‘‘If we had been hugging, all the conspiracy theorists would be saying it shows I got into the race to help the governor.’’

Listen to Cahill and it’s clear that he got into this race to help one person: himself. He likes the attention and believes he can win, by taking on Patrick and the Democratic establishment.

He chose Paul Loscocco, a former Republican state lawmaker, as his runningmate, a pick he said illustrates his commitment to independence. It likely also illustrates his inability to find a Democrat willing to take up with someone who is perceived as such a longshot by the political and media establishment.

But Cahill sees Patrick as a weak incumbent who is ‘‘hamstrung’’ by deals and concessions he made to labor and other special interests. (As treasurer, Cahill made some questionable deals of his own.) Cahill also sees weaknesses in Baker: ‘‘The Big Dig, and the way he and the Weld administration handled it and let it get out of control — especially someone running on competence.’’ Baker, Cahill predicted, will also “have his hands full with Christy Mihos in a primary.”

In the Globe poll, Cahill’s favorability ratings with voters were higher than any of his rivals.

That, plus the cold shoulder from some Democratic party insiders, will only fuel his ambition.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com.

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