The 2010 Massachusetts gubernatorial election seems at the moment to have three main contenders: incumbent Deval Patrick (D), former health-care executive Charlie Baker (R), and State Treasurer Tim Cahill (D-turned-I). Both Baker and Cahill are running to Patrick's right; both are critics of the new federal health-care law.
Cahill seems to have made a play for the Tea Partiers. He has appeared on Glenn Beck's show and has been a fierce advocate for a fiscal conservatism on the campaign trail. The Baker campaign and GOP operatives have regarded Cahill with some great skepticism. They wouldn't want to be caught in a hard-fought three-way in which Patrick ends up inching ahead with a vote percentage in the high 30's.
So the Republican Governors Association has unleashed a wave of negative attacks upon Cahill, with TV spots, mailings, and internet ads. The motivation is understandable: crush Cahill by alienating him from an irritable electorate, and make the MA governor's race a Baker-Patrick face-off. These attacks have been effective, increasing Cahill's unfavorability rating by 18 points and bringing him down to a 22% favorability rating.
However, these relentless attacks upon Cahill may also have helped Patrick rehabilitate his own image. His favorability rating has crept up to 45%. He now leads both opponents with 42% of the vote according to a Suffolk University poll---with 45% according to Rasmussen. Baker is stuck in the low thirties/high twenties, and Cahill has fallen to the low teens.
These numbers are doubly good for Patrick. Not only do they show him with a strong lead. Add together both Baker's and Cahill's numbers from the Suffolk poll, and their combined might is only 43%---only one point more than Patrick's own numbers. Eight percent of the electorate supports a Green Party candidate, giving Patrick more of a well of support to draw upon in a close match. So even if Baker can get all of Cahill's voters (or vice-versa), he still would probably lose to Patrick.
These months of in-fighting among the right have brought an electoral boon to Patrick. At the certain point, the GOP is going to have to pivot to start taking on Patrick in a more sustained way. Patrick can lose this race (his approval ratings over the past year or so have been pretty poor), but not if the center and the right keep turning their fire on each other.