NATICK, Mass.—As he munches on a tuna sandwich and sips soup during a recent break in campaigning, independent candidate for governor Timothy Cahill talks about betrayal, nasty politics, the 'forces' he says are working against him, and his resolve to stay in a race the polls and pundits say he cannot win.
But then he's reminded of something else.
"I used to own a place just like this," he says. "A sandwich shop just like this, maybe not quite as upscale. But we made all our own soups, salads."
Handshakes Cafe was the small Quincy restaurant Cahill started with a couple of buddies after college. By cutting tomatoes, he says, he learned how to cut it in business, and later in politics.
"What I learned is that you got to pay attention to the little things," he said. "It's the little things that will trip you up, not the big things."
With that, he pauses. "Well, the big things will trip you up as well."
Cahill's long-shot bid to buck the two-party system has degenerated into a bitter legal and political feud with rival Republicans and former staffers who deserted the struggling campaign. A lawsuit alleges that an e-mail trail shows the disloyal staffers engineered the defection of Cahill's running mate, Paul Loscocco, and pilfered confidential information that they perhaps planned to deliver to Republican Charles Baker.
"It became very obvious to us that there were a lot of forces working against us, and what they were doing was wrong," Cahill says about his decision to sue.
"We worked really hard to put together a campaign that can win and I'll be damned if anyone is going to steal it with a month to go and take it for their own use," he said.
The former aides have denied the charges and countered with their own assertions that the Cahill campaign improperly discussed promoting the state Lottery -- which the treasurer oversees -- to bolster Cahill's gubernatorial bid. The Lottery agreed to halt advertising while the allegation is probed.
Cahill, 51, the second of nine children, didn't grow up in a political family. His father, in fact, had a beef with politicians.
Paul Cahill, a maintenance man, took a second job stocking shelves at a toy store to help make ends meet. Around the holidays, local elected officials were allowed in to do their shopping on Sundays, when the store was closed to the public.
"All the (Quincy) politicians would come in and do their shopping, and it bothered the hell out of him," the younger Cahill recalled. "Why were these guys able to come in during off hours? I remember how angry he was about it."
Yet Cahill says his dad has been totally supportive of his political career. After Loscocco left and Cahill was under pressure to withdraw from the governor's race, it was Paul Cahill who declared that his was "not a family of quitters."
Cahill was elected to the Quincy City Council in 1987 and won the office of Norfolk County treasurer in 1996.
In 2002, still an unknown commodity statewide, he entered the race to succeed Treasurer Shannon O'Brien, who was running for governor. He adopted the slogan "Tim for Treasurer," not because it was cute and alliterative, but to separate him from Michael Cahill, one of three other Democrats seeking the office.
"Tim for Treasurer" seemed to catch on with voters, as did a lighthearted TV spot featuring his youngest daughter, then 10-year-old Kendra. It wouldn't mark the last time Kendra or her three sisters, Makena, Nicole and Devin, would be featured in TV ads.
As treasurer, Cahill touts growing sales at the Lottery, proceeds from which go to cities and towns to help pay for municipal services. He also boasts that the Pension Reserves Investment Trust Fund has outperformed the stock market in six of the last seven years. And he says reforms he pushed in the Massachusetts School Building Authority have jump-started stalled public school projects around the state.
Yet there have been missteps and controversies as well.
During Cahill's first term, he entered into confidentiality agreements and severance packages with several current and prospective employees, including one who had allegedly downloaded pornography. Former state Attorney General Scott Harshbarger reviewed the agreements and determined they were legal, but should be used sparingly.
In 2009, the state Ethics Commission investigated whether Cahill acted improperly by awarding a lottery contract to a firm that was paying consulting fees to a friend of the treasurer's, but closed the probe without taking action.
The lifelong Democrat threw the political establishment a curve by running for governor as an independent, saying he didn't want to run against any single individual or party. But his subsequent decision to stock his campaign with veterans of Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign would be a fateful one, as it was those aides who would later defect.
While demonstrating early fundraising success, Cahill's campaign seemed to founder almost from the start. Independent or not, his candidacy was clearly viewed as harming Baker far more than the incumbent Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick.
The Republican Governor's Association launched a withering series of attack ads that surprised even Cahill in their intensity.
"It shocked us," he said.
With time running out, Cahill has yet to close the gap and may still be the 'spoiler' many cynics said he could be at the start of the race. He still insists he can win and even if he doesn't the one-time high school wrestler seems satisfied that while thrown to the mat by his foes, he was never pinned.
"I'm not a gadfly," declares Cahill. "I'm not a fringe candidate. I'm a legitimate candidate and if anyone doesn't believe that they should look at all of the efforts to get me out of this race."