State House Watch: Gabfest time, and the usual cliches apply

The huddled masses of the People’s Chamber gathered last Thursday in the Omni Parker House Hotel, discussing reelection strategies and, to borrow a phrase, the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse, and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. There were pollsters on hand.

It is election season. Or, more precisely, it’s almost election season. The usual clichés apply.
There were the handful of House members who should be worried but will probably be fine, those who aren’t concerned but should be, and others lounging blithely and thanking their stars no one bothered to pull papers against them.

If you’re an incumbent, you want to talk about how important jobs and education are. As a challenger, those themes are relevant, aggressively framed through a throw-the-bums-out prism bedazzled with words like “change,” “clean up,” and “repopulate.”

Atop the billing, Republican Charles Baker and Independent Treasurer Timothy Cahill put their monies where their mouths have been, ponying up for TV ad buys that reinforced much of what they’ve been talking about for well over a year now. Now those who haven’t been paying attention can get it summarized in synchronized soundbites.

Baker: bringing spending in line with revenues, cutting taxes and restoring employment.

Cahill: an unspecified jobs plan, a record of fiscal conservatism at the School Building Authority, and a confusing statement about running the Lottery “with no scandals,” a clear jab at the taxpayer-funded defense of Cahill in a federal civil suit accusing him of fixing state contracts for campaign donations. It’s an awkward drop-in line in the ad, seemingly inviting Baker to jump on him. And Patrick, too, had the governor’s team not decided long ago that Tim Cahill is the best thing to happen to Deval Patrick since Tom Reilly.

The governor is running into trouble with two vital constituencies: organized labor and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, neither of whom has gone full-throttle – or even quarter-throttle, really – in backing their fellow Democrat. The AFL-CIO is pointedly revealing hip-level expanses of leg to Cahill, who has returned the favor in the form of praise for public employee unions while simultaneously dropping the cuff by vowing to cut taxes.

Both labor and the mayor have demonstrated weaknesses within their political machines in recent years – see, respectively, “Brown, Scott,” now a U.S. senator, and “Obama, Barack,” now president of the United States – but they matter in the ground game.

“I haven’t endorsed anybody. But I like Deval,” Menino said, wryly reprising the governor’s own amiable refusal to involve himself in last year’s mayor’s race.

A hybrid product of the Boston-labor political complex predicted victory for Patrick in November, and offered a partial explanation for why.

“I think at this point he’s fortunate that Tim Cahill is a factor, because I would be worried if he were to have to face the Republican opponent, Charlie Baker, one-on-one,” Rep. Stephen Lynch said of his fellow Democrat.

The Baker camp used this week as its opportunity to point out the burgeoning summer love between Patrick and Cahill, one of the odder couples in recent politics. Cahill is, to the Patrick camp, an untouchable, his value rendered ever higher by his proven ability to curry 15 percent of the vote, much of which is in outright denial of Baker’s odds. Don’t go bet on Patrick attack ads against Cahill.

Patrick can also count in the plus column last week’s week’s big education news, $250 million in hard-earned federal aid traceable, cheerleaders said, to the systemic overhaul passed in January.

On the negative side of the ledger, along with the ailing national economy, some unpleasant outcroppings on the state front, most visibly the latest housing numbers, which showed July home sales down 28 percent from a year ago, the first slip in 12 months and the state’s largest monthly drop since March 2008, when stuff was just starting to get ugly. Volume stooped to its lowest in 20 years. Market inventory continues to grow.