By Andrea Estes
State Treasurer Tim Cahill this week will change his political party designation from Democrat to unenrolled, the first step in mounting an independent challenge to Democratic governor Deval Patrick in the 2010 general election, two advisers said today.
Cahill, a lifelong Democrat who has served as treasurer since 2003, would not comment on his plans, but campaign advisers said he will make the switch at Quincy City Hall sometime this week.
They said the move doesn't necessarily mean he will run against the sitting governor; he has told them he will either campaign for governor or treasurer as an independent candidate.
Cahill will be the first incumbent officeholder in memory to drop his party affiliation, according to state election officials. They could recall no instance when an independent candidate won statewide office in Massachusetts. H. Ross Perot, who ran as an independent candidate for president in 1992, garnered more than 20 percent of the vote, which election officials believe was the largest percentage won in Massachusetts by an independent in recent years.
Cahill, a fiscal conservative, has told supporters he feels estranged from the Massachusetts Democratic party, whose tax and spend philosophy, he says, is more liberal than his own. He also said that before being elected the state's Democratic treasurer, he exercised a great deal of freedom as a Quincy city councilor running without party affiliation in municipal elections.
He has also felt spurned by the state party, which last year denied him a slot as a delegate to the Democratic national convention after he refused to endorse either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.
And when he ran for treasurer in 2002, Cahill was convinced that state Democratic leaders, who were backing a different candidate, tried to hurt him by encouraging a second officeseeker with the name Cahill to enter the race.
But more than anything else, some observers say, Cahill may be leaving the party because it would be nearly impossible for him to win enough support from Democratic party members -- 15 percent of the convention vote -- to secure a place on the primary ballot. With his former campaign manager John Walsh as party chairman and with supporters in key party posts, Patrick essentially controls the party apparatus.
"That was his main stumbling block to becoming a viable candidate within the party," said former party chairman Philip Johnston. "The only way he could have obtained 15 percent is if he had the support of many members of the legislature and I don't think that would have happened."
Walsh yesterday called Cahill " a credible candidate for anything he would run for. As long as he's a registered Democrat, I love him dearly."
He said he believes Cahill would have no problem winning enough convention votes to run in a Democratic primary.
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