GOP attacks sting Cahill in new poll

By Frank Phillips
Globe Staff / May 13, 2010

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A move by a handful of social conservatives on the Republican National Committee to try to block national funding for gubernatorial hopeful Charles D. Baker fizzled quickly yesterday after new polling data suggested that a party-funded media attack had succeeded in damaging rival Timothy P. Cahill.

Eight of the 168-member committee had written party leaders blasting the Republican Governors Association’s television and radio blitz against Cahill, an independent, and calling on the party not to “spend a dime’’ to support Baker and his running mate, Senate minority leader Richard R. Tisei, because of their liberal positions on social issues.

But four of those members quickly withdrew their names from the letter by midafternoon, just hours after analysts contended that the association’s attacks on Cahill were working. Many in the GOP see Cahill as Baker’s biggest hurdle in successfully challenging Governor Deval L. Patrick.

A new poll by Rasmussen Reports, a national survey firm, suggests that Cahill’s support has dropped over the last month; he gets 14 percent of the vote now, compared with 23 percent a month ago.

Patrick’s numbers, meanwhile, improved from 35 percent to 45 percent, and Baker’s numbers rose from 27 percent to 31 percent. The automated survey of 500 likely voters was conducted Monday and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Patrick’s surge is a positive sign for him. Just months ago, the governor was thought by many in both parties to be facing very tough odds in his reelection bid. Still, half of respondents in the Rasmussen poll said they disapproved of the job he was doing.

The damage to Cahill from the association’s attacks appears to be evident in the huge shift in voters’ attitude toward the state treasurer. A month ago, 49 percent of voters viewed him favorably, and 29 percent unfavorably. The latest polls show his favorable rating at 35 percent, with his unfavorable rating jumping to 41 percent, a 26 percentage point swing in four weeks.

“This just proves that you can’t take a pounding like that day after day on the television and radio and not see your numbers go down,’’ said Warren Tolman, a Democratic analyst who is a former state senator and onetime candidate for governor.

Cahill’s campaign, which has about $3 million in its account, said it has not decided how to respond the association’s campaign. He is faced with a decision on whether to husband his money for the fall campaign or draw on it now to stop any further slide in the polls.

“We have not made a decision,’’ said Adam Meldrum, Cahill’s campaign manager. “We are not going to do it just in response to negative campaign ads.’’

The poll numbers appear to have bolstered efforts by some national Republican leaders to persuade at least half the social conservatives on the Republican National Committee to abandon their call to halt the flow of GOP money in support of Baker and Tisei, whom the activists had called a “radical ticket’’ just hours earlier.

“We are strong conservatives and signed a letter we initially thought would send a message of support for conservative candidates in our party,’’ two committee members from Iowa, Steve Scheffler and Kim Lehman, said in a written statement. “Upon further reflection, we understand this letter could be interpreted as meddling in the affairs of an independent Republican organization, and we wish in no way to harm the efforts of the Republican Governors Association in the pursuit of its work.’’

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