On Health Care, Patrick Stands Alone and Stands to Gain

In January in Massachusetts' U.S. Senate special election, Martha Coakley, a candidate who favored health care reform, took 47% of the vote. That was bad ...
by | March 23, 2010

In January in Massachusetts' U.S. Senate special election, Martha Coakley, a candidate who favored health care reform, took 47% of the vote. That was bad news for Coakley, but it's good news for Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick because Patrick, in a heated three-way race, should win comfortably if he can take 47% of the vote.

And, it's become clear in recent days that if federal health care reform were the only issue in the governor's race (obviously, it won't be) Patrick would be well on his way to winning. From the Boston Globe:

The result is a three-way crossfire, with Governor Deval Patrick, a Democrat, supporting the national overhaul and defending the state prototype; with Republican Charles D. Baker Jr. knocking the cost of the national plan and moderately critical of Patrick's management of the state program; and with independent Timothy P. Cahill emerging as the provocateur with incendiary criticisms of both.

All three major candidates seized on the issue in the run-up to Sunday night's House passage of a national overhaul, and the sniping continued yesterday after Cahill, the state treasurer, accused Baker of arriving late to the chorus of critics of the Democratic efforts in Washington.

Baker's camp called the charge bogus and said that the former health insurance executive had advocated more incremental changes in the system last fall. Cahill's harsh criticism of the bill came only last week, when he asserted that it would wreck the national economy.

This is an interesting development on a few different levels. Cahill, a former Democrat, is staking out ground to the right of Baker on health care, the most likely Republican nominee. The state treasurer is attacking federal health care reform more forcefully than Baker. Massachusetts' own near-universal health care law (a.k.a. Romneycare) generally has been popular, but Cahill is attacking it anyway.

The other day I wondered whether Cahill could find an ideological niche that would allow him to attract votes. At least on health care, he's finding a niche: as the most conservative candidate.

That, of course, helps Patrick. With his well-below-fifty-percent approval ratings, to win the governor needs both Cahill and Baker to remain viable candidates and he needs them to take positions that allow him to retain as much Democratic support as possible. On the health care legislation, that's exactly what is happening so far.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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