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Adrian Walker

A political lone wolf

By Adrian Walker
Globe Columnist / February 13, 2010

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Of all the baggage that has been piled into the back of Scott Brown’s pickup truck, the most far-fetched might be that his stunning shortcut to the US Senate will somehow make Tim Cahill governor of Massachusetts.

But there was the state treasurer, in an Adams Corner restaurant yesterday, declaring that the people have said, loud and clear, that they value independence. And that he is as independent as they come.

“I think there’s general disgust with the two-party system,’’ Cahill said.

I am a skeptic about the deeper meaning of Scott Brown - Martha Coakley gave it away - and I have had no shortage of reservations about Cahill. The accusation that his office is a “pay-to-play’’ operation - contribute to Cahill if you want to do business with the treasury - is out there and it’s troubling. So, too, is the fact that taxpayers have been stuck paying hundreds of thousands to defend Cahill in a lawsuit that probably could have been avoided.

But his ad during the Super Bowl was cute. And the rout of conventional wisdom in this state’s politics can’t be denied. So I was eager to hear him explain the rationale for his independent campaign.

Cahill is, in his telling, a disaffected Democrat. As the cliche goes, he didn’t leave the party so much as it left him. “I don’t think it was speaking to middle-class people,’’ he said.

Cahill’s critics say he is just an opportunist who chose to leave the party because he couldn’t win a primary against a sitting governor, even one as politically weakened as Deval Patrick. Cahill insisted that the party had never given him much support anyway, partly because of his fiscally conservative positions.

He said it was liberating to vote as an independent in the Senate race. He voted Democratic in the primary, but was coy about whether he had, in the final, voted for his new role model, Brown. But he offered a hint. “I’ve voted for Republicans before, in presidential elections. But I felt guilty, especially when I was a Democratic elected official. I didn’t feel guilty this time.’’

Back when he was a Democrat, he supported Patrick, helping him carry Quincy in 2006. That ended with the fiscal crisis. “As the revenues were dropping there didn’t seem to be an acknowledgement that there was a different dynamic,’’ he said. “If the economy was going well and people were working, I wouldn’t have a problem with the governor.’’

Of course, Patrick is not his immediate problem. That would be Charlie Baker, who most observers expect to waltz away with the fiscally conservative voters Cahill needs for traction. Cahill touts his two statewide runs for office, and his name recognition. But Baker emerged as the instant darling of the business establishment, has credentials as a fiscal conservative, and figures to outraise Cahill.

So won’t the fiscally conservative, independent voters have to choose? “Probably,’’ Cahill conceded. “I don’t think there will be room for both of us.’’

Cahill believes he can raise $5 million or $6 million and be competitive. Recent history suggests that the price will be closer to $10 million, though not having to compete in a primary will save millions.

And whether the weird confluence of forces that cleared the way for Brown will translate to other candidates is a question. Voters sent a message. But there is more than one way to read that message.

“I think his win says that anything’s possible,’’ Cahill mused. “When independents get energized they control elections. Any one of us could have that. You don’t get it just because of the letter after your name.’’

This is a race without precedent. For an independent looking for something to cling to, there’s an element of hope.

“I kind of like the dynamic of doing something different,’’ he said. “We elected Democrats, we’ve elected Republicans, but one thing we’ve never done is elect an independent.’’

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com.