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.
Frank’s positions are well-known, and consistently leftist. Frank voted for each Obama spending bill, all of which have inflated the deficit. He does not vote for a strong military. He voted against reforming the UN and against making the Patriot Act permanent. His pro-abortion votes have earned him a 100% rating from NARAL, and his consistent opposition to law enforcement and his positions on security matters have earned him a 93% percent rating from the ACLU. He votes for affirmative action and is considered to have an anti-business record.
Frank is for an open border at a time when Arizona is fighting a two-front war. He is for gun control and for a narrow reading of the Second Amendment that has been rejected by the Supreme Court.
Brown ran a focused three-point campaign. He promised to vote against ObamaCare, for an end to profligate spending on borrowed money, and for a strong defense. Brown exuded an aura of sincerity, and his role as a military lawyer presented him as a serious defender of the nation.
Bielat’s similar arguments will carry more weight than Brown’s — ObamaCare has passed, and the Republican predictions of vast cost overruns in health care, familiar to Massachusetts voters, are reality. Obama is still pushing Democrats to approve further spending, and the economy is not responding. The U.S. has suffered terrorist attacks — even though Obama tried to spin the events as the crazed actions of individuals — and the common sense of voters has labeled them as accurately.
Brown’s election highlights a critical lesson. His campaign built a foundation on his identity, and slowly gathered momentum until people began to believe he could make a good showing. He proceeded to establish that he could win, and his campaign exploded when people believed that he would. The Democratic establishment in Massachusetts lost its aura of invincibility somewhere along the line, a tipping point. No one can foresee if Bielat can create a campaign capable of reaching a tipping point, but he now has precedent.
There is a substantial Jewish vote in Newton, Brookline, and Sharon, three of the cities where the Democrats have dominated. Jewish voters supported Obama with a 75% vote. The election in the Fourth may give an indication of whether or not Jewish voters will hold Frank and the Democrats accountable for the humiliation heaped on Israel and Netanyahu by Obama, and for the cavalier way Democrats have treated Israel regarding Gaza while Israel is in existential danger. Will Jews draw the relevant historical lesson of the 1930s, when all were quiet while the Nazis prepared the Holocaust and a naïve policy of appeasement failed?
Independent voters who selected Frank when Bush was president now realize that their earlier vote had far more consequence to their lives, to their finances, and to the United States than they foresaw. If they fear the continued consequences of a Democratic-controlled White House and Congress with a veto-proof Senate, they will vote for “change.” If Jews credit the explicit genocidal promises of Ahmadinejad, they will be fearful. If both Jews and independents are fearful, they will dial “911 U.S. Marines,” and Sean Bielat will answer the telephone.