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Patrick banks on 3-way Mass. gov. race

Associated Press | 4/30/2010, 8:59 a.m.

In a tough year for Democrats, the political fate of Deval Patrick is on the line in his bid for a second term as Massachusetts’ governor.

His popularity already battered by a series of gaffes and the state’s economic woes, Patrick found himself jolted again in January by Republican Scott Brown’s victory in the race for the late Ted Kennedy’s U.S. Senate seat amid voter anger at Democrats in Washington and in the Statehouse.

Now his re-election may hinge on the odd dynamics of a three-way contest and the presence of a former Democrat in the field.

When state Treasurer Timothy Cahill decided last year to bolt from the Democratic Party and launch an independent bid for governor, the party faithful accused him of trying to leapfrog a potentially costly primary.

But with polls now showing Patrick holding a narrow lead over Cahill and Republican candidate and former health insurance CEO Charles Baker, it’s the GOP that’s crying foul.

The Cahill factor is infuriating the state’s beleaguered Republicans, who hoped Brown’s win over Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley would signal the start of a comeback year in a state where Democrats hold every statewide seat and overwhelming majorities in the Legislature.

A poll released last week is stoking Republican fears. It showed just 34 percent of likely voters support Patrick — sobering numbers for any incumbent — but 29 percent favor Cahill and 27 percent support Baker.

Republicans worry the survey, by the Western New England College Polling Institute, shows Cahill and Baker splitting the anti-Patrick vote, and they are convinced Baker would be pulling away from Patrick if it weren’t for Cahill.

Patrick said he’s unfazed by the polls.

“I’m not focused on the other candidates and their campaigns. I’m focused on what we have to do,” he said. “What we have to do is to continue successfully governing through a crisis.”

The key to success for any statewide candidate in Massachusetts is to appeal to the majority of voters — just over half — not enrolled in either major party. Running as an independent could make that easier by liberating a candidate from a party platform, Republican consultant Meredith Warren said.

“It could be very freeing not to be held down by the trappings of a party,” she said.

Cahill hopes to scoop up votes wherever he can. In just the past week, he crashed a Tea Party rally on Boston Common and shook hands outside the Massachusetts Republican Party convention in Worcester. When Democrats gather in June, Cahill said, he plans to show up there, too.

“I don’t know what they were saying behind my back, but to my face they were very cordial,” Cahill said of the GOP gathering. “I’m an independent, and I think my message resonates with Republicans as well as conservative Democrats.”

Inside the convention hall, where Cahill was viewed as the ultimate political spoiler, he got a frostier reception.

“If you believe state government doesn’t need serious reform, but more patronage and insider deals, then vote for Tim Cahill,” Baker told the crowd of about 3,000 party faithful.