McCormick is a threat to Baker’s candidacy

Independent is complicating GOP’s electoral math

Charlie Baker is a businessman who wants to be governor of Massachusetts. His pitch largely revolves around jobs, education, and his private-sector experience. Jeff McCormick is also a businessman who wants to be governor of Massachusetts. Like Baker, McCormick is putting a heavy emphasis on jobs, education, and his career in business.

The contest between Baker, the longtime Massachusetts Republican fixture, and McCormick, an independent from Boston, is largely a zero-sum game. Polling data indicate that, whatever McCormick’s vote tally winds up being in November, almost all of his votes will be coming out of Baker’s column.

Tim Cahill, the former Democratic state treasurer, set the high-water mark for independent gubernatorial candidates four years ago. Cahill’s third-party run against Gov. Deval Patrick and Baker netted more than 184,000 votes, or 8 percent of the vote. Cahill was a conservative Democrat who built his campaign around a pitch to disaffected Democrats and rightward-leaning independents — the type of crossover voters who would normally be targeted by Republican campaigns.

Some Baker partisans blamed Cahill for siphoning off enough votes to hand Patrick reelection. (Patrick topped Baker by 6 percentage points, 48 to 42.) But a post-election survey by the MassINC Polling Group found that Cahill drew votes from both his Democratic and Republican opponents. The MassINC poll found that nearly half of Cahill’s voters were likely Patrick supporters, and Cahill’s total didn’t tip the balance between Patrick and Baker. Internal campaign surveys came to the same conclusion.

Four years later, with Baker making a second run at the governor’s office, there’s a new independent candidate complicating his electoral math. But recent polling data suggest McCormick poses a much more direct threat to Baker’s tally than Cahill ever did.

Polls testing November gubernatorial matchups have consistently put McCormick’s support in the single digits. In any one poll, there aren’t enough McCormick voters to get a reliable read on who they are, and why they’re with McCormick. But because McCormick supporters tend to behave similarly in the polls, looking across several polling snapshots provides a clear portrait of who McCormick’s supporters are.

CommonWealth analyzed seven weeks of data from the Boston Globe, which has been polling the gubernatorial race weekly. All told, the Globe polls contain a pool of 290 likely voters who say they support McCormick — a sample that’s deep enough to give a reliable read on where McCormick’s votes are coming from. (A second independent candidate, Evan Falchuk, has polled at 1 or 2 percent.)

The data show McCormick supporters behave much more like Republican voters than Democratic voters. This isn’t the even split that Cahill created. Ideologically, McCormick’s voters are much closer to Baker’s than they are to Martha Coakley’s.

McCormick voters aren’t wild about Baker. The polls show more McCormick voters view Baker favorably than view him unfavorably, but the gap between these pro- and anti-Baker attitudes is narrower than it is among the electorate at large. McCormick voters aren’t sold on Baker. That’s a big reason why they’re with McCormick in the first place.

But if McCormick voters are lukewarm on Baker, they’re sharply opposed to Coakley, who holds a 30-point lead in Democratic primary polls. Among McCormick supporters, voters who hold a favorable view of Coakley are outnumbered, by a margin of nearly two-to-one, by those who view Coakley unfavorably. McCormick voters disapprove of Sen. Elizabeth Warren by a nearly identical margin.

Meet the Author

Paul McMorrow

Associate Editor, CommonWealth

About Paul McMorrow

Paul McMorrow comes to CommonWealth from Banker & Tradesman, where he covered commercial real estate and development. He previously worked as a contributing editor to Boston magazine, where he covered local politics in print and online. He got his start at the Weekly Dig, where he worked as a staff writer, and later news and features editor. Paul writes a frequent column about real estate for the Boston Globe’s Op-Ed page, and is a regular contributor to BeerAdvocate magazine. His work has been recognized by the City and Regional Magazine Association, the New England Press Association, and the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. He is a Boston University graduate and a lifelong New Englander.

About Paul McMorrow

Paul McMorrow comes to CommonWealth from Banker & Tradesman, where he covered commercial real estate and development. He previously worked as a contributing editor to Boston magazine, where he covered local politics in print and online. He got his start at the Weekly Dig, where he worked as a staff writer, and later news and features editor. Paul writes a frequent column about real estate for the Boston Globe’s Op-Ed page, and is a regular contributor to BeerAdvocate magazine. His work has been recognized by the City and Regional Magazine Association, the New England Press Association, and the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. He is a Boston University graduate and a lifelong New Englander.

The major fault line separating Coakley’s voters from Baker’s is the question of whether Massachusetts is heading in the right direction. Coakley voters are overwhelmingly bullish on the state’s direction, while Baker voters are overwhelmingly pessimistic about it. While the polling data show McCormick voters aren’t quite as gloomy as Baker voters, they’re much more likely to have a negative outlook than a positive one; on this count, they’re far closer to Baker’s voters than Coakley’s.

McCormick voters fit the profile of the type of people Baker needs to have with him in November. They’re dissatisfied with the status quo and hold negative views of prominent Democrats. So it’s notable that McCormick recently moved to outflank Baker on the right on immigration. McCormick’s campaign launched with a flourish of bipartisanship, rolling out the tandem of Democratic political consultant Dan Payne, and Republican consultant Todd Domke. Both men have left the campaign. Former Republican treasurer Joe Malone is now the campaign’s chief strategist.

McCormick has pumped $837,000 of his own money into the campaign since launching late last year. The cash infusion has allowed his campaign spending to track close to the major party candidates, and is likely to make him a factor in the fall.