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Political Intelligence

For those involved in Cahill trial, Election 2010 lingers on

Timothy Cahill and a former aide are charged with misappropriating state lottery funds.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Timothy Cahill and a former aide are charged with misappropriating state lottery funds.

Election Day has come and gone for most of the public, with ­incessant campaign commercials giving way to incessant holiday commercials.

Yet the election still drones on for 16 men and women, and it’s not even the most recent one. It’s the gubernatorial campaign from 2010.

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The nine women and seven men are jurors in the public corruption trial of former state treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, and they are reliving that ­bizarre election in a ninth-floor courtroom at Suffolk Superior Court.

Cahill and former top aide Scott Campbell are charged with misappropriating $1.8 million in Massachusetts State Lottery funds by creating an ad campaign whose alleged purpose was to boost not ticket sales, but Cahill’s 2010 gubernatorial candidacy.

In that race, Cahill abandoned the Democratic Party and ran instead as an independent, seeking to be the alternative to the eventual winner, Democrat Deval Patrick, and his Republican challenger, Charles D. Baker Jr.

The GOP viewed Cahill as a threat to Baker, capable of ­splitting the anti-Patrick vote and thereby helping the governor win reelection. That prompted the Republican Governors ­Association, whose purpose is to support GOP governors and gubernatorial candidates, to spend early and often on an anti-Cahill advertising campaign.

By the summer of 2010, ­Cahill was facing lagging poll numbers even though he still had $3.5 million in his campaign account. He decided to start spending it to rehabilitate his image, and, state prosecutors say, sought extra help with a taxpayer-funded ad campaign that boasted about strong leadership of the lottery.

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As treasurer, Cahill oversaw the lottery.

The trial is about halfway through its six-week timetable, and a couple hours in the courtroom last week highlighted the Greek tragedy in which Cahill and Campbell find themselves.

They also highlighted the seamy underside of politics, as well as the challenge any defendant faces when he’s going up against the full resources of a government prosecution.

One witness called to the stand was Dane Strother, a Washington media consultant. He tried to land Cahill’s campaign advertising account early on but lost to a competitor, only to get an SOS e-mail from ­Cahill adviser Neil Morrison on June 1, 2010.

“Cahill made a huge mistake in not going with you,” Morrison wrote to Strother in a message displayed on a big flat-screen monitor for the jury to review.

“Six weeks ago, he was in second place and surging,” Morrison added, before detailing the damage wrought by the Republican Governors Association attack ads. “The campaign is circling the drain now.”

Strother signed on for a 10 percent share of any money spent on ads, which ended up netting him somewhere between $200,000 and $300,000.

He went on to explain how he observed focus groups that tested potential messages for Cahill, and how he and the campaign staff settled on an “us-vs.-them” theme: Cahill would cast himself as a Regular Joe confronting an establishment onslaught.

The focus groups also showed that Cahill’s stewardship of the lottery was a potential boon to his candidacy. That later became the narrative for the ad campaign at issue in the trial.

Cahill and Campbell are both in the courtroom each day, sitting beside a team of lawyers that has drained them financially. Each faces prison time, as well as the loss of his government pension, if convicted.

Cahill’s wife, Tina, sits in the front row of the public gallery each day, supporting the man she loves even as she openly chafes at the charges and testimony against him.

Timothy ­Cahill argues the ads were needed to defend the lottery, and didn’t boost him because he wasn’t even named in them.

While two prosecutors were trying the case, three colleagues from Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office sat in the back of the gallery last week, observing, taking notes, and audibly gossiping about the goings-on.

As Strother’s attorney walked onto the courtroom, clad in a bow tie, one remarked, “Doesn’t he have ‘Washington lawyer’ written all over him?”

After more chatter, including news that one of the observers was going to London with his wife for Thanksgiving, Tina Cahill turned around and glared at the group.

The case against Timothy Cahill is compellingly detailed in a tall stack of e-mails — such as the one from Morrison to Strother — that none of the parties ever thought would be made public.

Now, though, they are, and they could end up writing the coda to an election that ended two years ago for everyone outside Courtroom 907.

Glen Johnson is lead blogger for Political Intelligence, available online at www.boston.com/politics. He can be reached at johnson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.

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