Cahill, running as an independent, has also piled on Baker. Earlier this month, political strategist (and former top aide to John McCain) John Weaver introduced himself as a new Cahill campaign consultant with a release calling Baker "the consummate insider who was the first CFO of the Big Dig — the greatest fiscal public-works disaster in world history."

Mihos wants to make the Big Dig a central part of his case against Baker in the Republican primary. "A lot of people would like to call it a nonissue — been there and done that," Mihos tells the Phoenix. "Anything that we'll be paying for until 2038 at least — and has sucked up a goodly amount of state road and bridge funds — [is still an issue]."

Baker has insisted that he had no central role in Big Dig decisions, and that no specific allegations of malfeasance or incompetence have been leveled at him. But political observers say that, at the very least, Baker's defense portraying himself as uninvolved undercuts his ability to claim that same governmental experience as a key qualification for being governor.

In any case, merely being mentioned in the same breath as the Big Dig may prove harmful, since the very name has come to represent all that people hate about politics.

No angels
Democratic political consultant Scott Ferson of the Liberty Square Group — who consults for Murray — compares the Big Dig to New York's old Tammany Hall, which, once it became synonymous with corrupt politics, tainted everyone associated with it.

The Big Dig's political curse is so far-reaching that it even applies to those who have blown the whistle — or attempted to do so. When O'Brien ran for governor in 2002, she was portrayed by Mitt Romney as too weak and Democratically connected to oversee the Big Dig, a strategy that was effective even though, as state treasurer, she refused to sign off on financing plans until she got answers about cost overruns.

Ferson and others also note that no Massachusetts pol has successfully positioned him- or herself as the Big Dig's corruption-fighting champion — as, for example, Eliot Spitzer did with prosecutions as attorney general in New York, or Weld did as US attorney in Massachusetts.

"I don't think the public thinks there is anything positive attached to it," says Ferson. "There's no feeling that there are any angels."

Thus, both Malone and Harshbarger made the Big Dig a central part of their criticism of acting governor Cellucci when they ran against him 1998, but neither of them were seen as having done any better.

"It was a bipartisan rip-off," says Republican state senator Robert Hedlund of Weymouth. "For either party, or any politician, to point a finger is ridiculous."

Clean House
In fact, some suggest that, by pounding on Baker's role in the Big Dig, Murray and the state Democrats might be hurting their own party. That's because it reminds voters of their disgust with Beacon Hill politics — and if voters go to the polls in November looking to clean house, Democrats have the most to lose.

"It is the poster child for everything that's wrong with government," says Mihos. "The term 'Big Dig culture' is operative five years ago, today, and 10 years hence."

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