STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE WEEKLY ROUNDUP: Flammable and Inflammable mean the same thing

It can be hard for us plebes – we, the mediocre unwashed, the plebes, the groundlings – to grasp the fantastic mental perambulations and intellectual high-wire acts executed by the likes of those who attended that ivy-wreathed citadel of higher learning across the Charles. Just ask Tim Cahill.

But even we in the proletariat can detect that the two Harvard guys don’t much like each other. It’s a visceral, shared sort of feeling, like when two fellows in competing final clubs levitate past each other in the Yard and grow suspicious that the one might have the better brie.

Gov. Deval Patrick and Republican challenger Charles Baker, show the polls, are now in a two-and-a-half man game, with Cahill the fractional presence presenting Baker with a two-front struggle, like a guy hanging onto a helicopter with one hand and trying to unlace cement shoes with the other. Patrick so painstakingly showered Cahill with praise during Tuesday night’s debate that viewers had to wonder whether the guv was growing confused about which “Tim” was on his ticket.

The Bakerites leapt on Patrick’s charge that Baker had relied on “state aid” to turn around Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. Baker’s denial prompted a round of recriminations between the campaigns, and some media deep-dives into the definition of “aid.” Neither side blinked, Patrick’s camp insisting that Baker had benefited from a bailout and Republicans charging that Patrick had been, at best, sloppy with his facts.

There is not a lot of warm feelings between Patrick and Cahill, either, but the Democrats’ efforts to prop up the treasurer as the center-right alternative to Baker have inoculated him from their attacks, given him a no-fly zone into which the party’s offensives do not stray. Which is good for him, because Patrick is raising money hand-over-fist and it looks like a lot of it’s about to be spent on well-produced ads depicting the governor as the compassionate skipper in choppy waters, and Baker as a Queeg-like figure. It’s the Republican Governors Association, and Howie Carr, that Cahill needs to worry about, especially if the RGA returns with its keyhole-satellite-accuracy bomb drops on him.

Happily, there is no shortage of debates between now and the Day of Reckoning on Nov. 2. Green-Rainbow candidate Jill Stein did well Tuesday, but her deficit is uncoverable. The dynamics could shift, they could sharpen. Events, for sure, will continue to unfold.

Reckoning could come a little sooner for the scattered handful of incumbents with formidable challenges in next week’s primaries. The best statewide games on the board Tuesday are the Dem races for treasurer – pitting Steves Grossman and Murphy – and for auditor, Worcester Sheriff Guy Glodis, former Patrick labor chief Suzanne Bump, and Northeastern official Mike Lake vying to succeed Joe DeNucci, who was first elected when polling places were caves and charged Thursday with violating the conflict of interest law by hiring his cousin.

On the congressional level, U.S. Rep. Steve Lynch is fending off fellow laborite Mac D’Alessandro in the 9th, state Sen. Rob O’Leary and Norfolk District Attorney William Keating are killing each other in the 10th while state Rep. Jeff Perry and former state Treasurer Joe Malone are doing the same on the GOP side. And U.S. Reps. Barney Frank, James McGovern, Niki Tsongas and John Tierney will find out whom they’re drawing for November, as the GOP puts forth a mixed effort at biting into the Dem hegemony in the House delegation.

The long-term prospects for that shift are also murky, particularly because the Commonwealth is likely to drop a House seat when Congress reapportions next year. If a Republican gets in, the state Legislature, which will still be overwhelmingly Democratic, just might be tempted to cut loose their new GOP friend in Washington. Not the wicked handsome one.

Who is polling, mind you, somewhere north of Neptune. The State House News Service opinion survey, diabolically unfurled over a tortuous three-day period, showed U.S. Sen. Scott Brown better than 2-to-1 favorable-to-unfavorable, solidifying his status as the most popular Bay Stater outside of that guy who took the cell phone pictures of Tom Brady’s car accident, which received as much overheated coverage as just about anything since Clark Rockefeller and raised questions about why #12 is not transported places encased in bubble wrap.

The numbers showed the chessboard set up as described above in the governor’s race, voters rejecting ballot measures to repeal the affordable housing zoning law and the new sales tax on alcohol, embracing the referendum cutting the overall sales tax from 6.25 percent to 3, and assigning to Patrick the blame for the gambling bill pileup. That last result was probably due largely to name recognition and the fact that, as a function of the job, the buck stops there. He’s been called everything, as he liked to note before the ’06 election, but a child of God.

Fifty-three days until this one, and it’s pretty clear he won’t catch that label this time, either.

STORY OF THE WEEK: The side-by-sides begin.

NO ONE WILL EVER KNOW: It is great fun to noodle about what the governor had to do to get Boston Mayor Thomas Menino’s tempered, Friday-afternoon endorsement. A second term push to circumvent collective bargaining in designing municipal health plans? An agreement not to be so gleefully coy about his sentiments if Menino runs for his 39th, and presumably final, term? An executive edict banning public remarks by the flaccid body known as the Boston City Council?

THE RISK POOL: The governor’s press team held its weekly, Bohemian Grove-style secret conclave Wednesday and found reason to celebrate that the administration had survived the summer without catching any guff for closing pools early. This is because they did not, with temperatures spiking and, oh yes, an election approaching, close pools early. That exercise leads predictably to photos of sweltering rugrats pressing their noses against chain-link fences in yearning for some sweet liquid relief and, perhaps, chopper footage of Patrick’s Richmond ranch, which has a sick pool with a cabana. Less celebratory the looming prospect of reduced pool opening hours next year, due to the estimated $5 million shortfall in the Department of Conservation and Recreation.

AND THE NRA ENDORSEMENT GOES TO: Check out the new Mary Z. Connaughton for auditor ad on her campaign website. It’s the former Turnpike board member and Aloisi antagonist in a Kennedy-esque game of football with the fam. Two things jump out. First, her husband knows how to finish a block. Mary Z., as quarterback, has already released the ball and he’s still mauling their pass-rushing son, who doesn’t look much older than 4, not letting the kid up off the ground. This is how you get a boy ready to play on Sundays, teach him not to stop until the whistle. Second, Mary Z. looks like she could suit up herself. Bouncing on her toes in the pocket, just like the late Sid Gillman taught, she steps and uncorks what looks to be a lethal downfield missile to her older son, who’s running an apparent post pattern. Unfortunately, the footage cuts out before it’s clear whether the connection is completed. But what a cannon on Mary Z.