A week for the record books, full of sound, fury, intrigue, absurdity

By Noah Bierman
Globe Staff / October 9, 2010

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Gary Magnuson was snacking on chips and a Diet Pepsi at a downtown sandwich shop yesterday when he was asked about the startling political news of the week.

Which news, exactly?

“Are you talking about the indictments?’’ said Magnuson, 50, a banker from Duxbury. Or was it “the accusations between Cahill and Baker?’’

Forgive voters — even those, like Magnuson, paying close attention to Massachusetts politics — if they have had trouble keeping track of one of the wildest political weeks in memory.

It began last Friday with gubernatorial candidate Timothy P. Cahill’s running mate deserting him for a rival campaign. Then a congressional candidate’s brother and daughter reported to police that they were being trailed by a young operative with a telephoto lens, who told police he was snoop ing to see if the candidate was lying about his legal residence. By Wednesday, the wife of a sitting member of Congress was in federal court, pleading guilty to aiding her brother’s finances while he allegedly ran an illegal offshore gambling business.

Throw in new questions about a Democrat running for auditor who claimed two primary residences to get a property-tax break, and a Republican treasurer hopeful advocating for a road project across the street from her family’s industrial park.

That sums up almost everything, except, of course, the lawsuit Cahill filed Thursday contending that his erstwhile campaign staff plotted with Republicans to sabotage his campaign and deprive him of his running mate, Paul Loscocco. Then, not to be left out, Loscocco chimed in yesterday with his amended accusation, saying Cahill’s campaign was the one conspiring, but with the Democrats.

“I think you’d have to say that this is about as bizarre a version of the political silly season as we ever see,’’ said Stephen P. Crosby, dean of the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston. “Individually, none of them really amounts to very much. But taken together, it’s like the whole political class is, if not run amok, at least grossly insensitive to, sort of, the public trust.’’

In poll after poll at the state and national level, voters have expressed an unusually high level of frustration with politics this year. Most of the candidates slinging the mud, or getting spattered with it, say they are running against politics as usual. But weeks like this make that message a tougher sell for some of them.

“They’re out forgetting where the common man comes from,’’ said Richard Keenan, 61, of Weymouth, a retired Marine. “They need to get out and actually walk around and see what the people are going through.’’

To some voters, it all begins to sound like noise, especially when the political stories — online, in print, and on television — come packaged around a constant barrage of political advertisements from the candidates and from third-party groups.

“You become numb to it,’’ said Andrea Matteson, 31, a retail leasing broker from Marblehead. “A lot of the information comes from opposing candidates, so you question the reliability of it.’’

There is now less than a month until the Nov. 2 election. Candidates generally see this as a new phase, often a very combative phase, to cement their reputations and their opponents’ reputations, as voters begin paying closer attention.

“I describe it as sort of the Christmas retail period,’’ Charles D. Baker, the Republican candidate for governor, said Thursday on the campaign trail, before the Cahill lawsuit was filed. “You spend a whole year preparing for [it], and then, boom, off you go. . . . At this point, every day’s going to matter, and we’re going to treat it like it matters.’’

The high stakes often lead to more attacks, as well as greater focus from the news media on the candidates’ foibles. This year, there are more candidates and contested elections than there have been in decades, in large part because of dissatisfaction with the economy and the general state of politics.

Cahill’s candidacy especially, an unlikely third party bid from a sitting treasurer whose fortunes have swung wildly in the polls, has upset the usual dynamic, as both the major-party candidates struggle to account for him in their campaign strategies.

“I’m tired of playing defense with these guys; we’ve got to play offense,’’ Cahill said, his voice rising as he argued yesterday with Todd Feinburg, a conservative morning host on WRKO-AM. “We’ve got to stand up to this sleazy politics.’’

After months of spotty media coverage, Cahill seemed to bask in the new attention to his campaign, even if most of it resulted from the mutiny of the campaign advisers and running mate.

The Cahill campaign buzz dominated a forum at Bentley University in Waltham yesterday, where Cahill and Governor Deval Patrick, a Democrat, spoke separately to a hall full of business leaders. Reporters, cameramen, and curious onlookers staked out the entrance, waiting for Cahill to arrive, with more fanfare than was accorded the governor.

Cahill ducked into a side conference room to speak to the press as his staff blocked the door to stop a member of the Baker campaign staff who trails Cahill with a video camera.

The press wanted more: More about Loscocco. More about the allegations by Baker that Cahill has improperly used resources from the Treasury and state Lottery to help his campaign.

Later, Patrick was having trouble taking stock of the dizzying week. “It’s just one bizarre thing after another,’’ he said.

Astor D. Chance, a 57-year-old tenor saxophone player from Cambridge, tried to make sense of it all while he ate carry-out Chinese food on a park bench in Boston Common.

“This is getting nasty, huh?’’ he said with a laugh. “I’m still upset about John Kerry docking that yacht down in Rhode Island.’’

Andrew Ryan and Eric Moskowitz of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Noah Bierman can be reached at