Can Barney Frank — of all people — be beaten?
A Republican can certainly win in Massachusetts, as recently established by Scott Brown. But the answer to the latter question depends upon numerous factors, including: the demographics of the Fourth Congressional District; the public’s current perceptions of Frank and the Democrats in Washington, D.C.; and the likely Republican candidate, Sean Bielat.
A primary reason Frank has stayed in office since 1981 is that the Fourth is a carefully gerrymandered district. The district connects the Volvo liberals of Newton and Brookline to the Democratic, blue-collar cities of Fall River and New Bedford. It meanders from the Boston city limits south, all the way to the ocean — overwhelming the intervening leafy bedroom communities like Dover and Lakeville.
The Fourth has had a Democratic congressman since 1947. A legitimate, Republican candidate — with a modicum of gravitas — has not tested Barney recently. In the elections of 2002, 2004, and 2006, Frank had no real opposition. In 2008, Barney carried 64% of the vote against a weak Republican.
Electoral history seems to support an inference that the Fourth has an intimidating percentage of registered Democrats, but this is not the case: the current breakdown is 38% Democrat, 11% Republican, and 50% independent. Even in the five Democratic cities, registered Democrats do not outnumber the total of registered Republicans and registered independents. In the special election of 2010, Scott Brown won every one of the bedroom communities and failed to reach 50% only in the four urban cities and Sharon.
Yes, Frank can lose.
Frank has been in office for 29 years — long enough for the public to view him objectively, without the leg-tingling attributes voters might naively ascribe to attractive newcomers. Voters have not rejected Frank for his past personal behavior that may be described as scandalous, and they will not do so now. Whether Frank will be hurt by his admitted connection to the OneUnited Bank matter — in which Representative Maxine Waters has been accused of ethics violations — is still developing. However, voters may reevaluate him dispassionately on his record in light of the fundamental changes to their lives enacted by the Democrats since January 2009.
Challenging Frank is Republican Sean Bielat. He matches up well with Scott Brown on both a personal and philosophical level.
After graduation from Georgetown, Bielat served four years active duty as a U.S. Marine lieutenant. He continues to serve as a major in the Marine Reserve. He earned a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Bielat burnished his defense credentials at the iRobot Corporation, which produces robots used in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bielat’s position on Israel shows that he has a realistic view of the world — appropriate for a Marine — and can draw valid moral distinctions.
Says Brian Phillips, campaign manager for Sean Bielat:
Barney Frank reflects all that’s broken in Washington: bailouts, rising debt, and government expansion at the expense of our liberty. … Sean is a businessman and Marine with the leadership experience to restore fiscal responsibility and turn the economy around. Voters across the district are responding to Sean very favorably and the evidence shows he can win this election.