Is Barney Frank worried?
“Not to be condescending, but let me give you a little tip,” he tells National Review Online outside a convention hall on Massachusetts’ south coast. “Never ask a candidate if he’s confident he’s going to win: because the answer will always be ‘yes.’”
Indeed, Frank is still the clear favorite in Massachusetts’s 4th congressional district. But even as he speaks, it has come out that he’s lent his campaign two hundred grand from his own pocket, and reporters are nagging him about a bizarre — and for a 30-year incumbent, wildly undisciplined — incident in which his boyfriend, Jim Ready, was caught on camera going paparazzo on Republican challenger Sean Bielat — snapping photos and hurling insults.
And although he won’t say it in so many words, Frank’s campaign has a look and feel of — if not desperation, than at least discomfort. Frank says that his internals have him up between 19 and 20 points but admits that the race has become nationalized, and he’s had to campaign harder than in previous years. He’s even running TV spots — something he last did in his 2004 semi-official campaign to succeed John Kerry had the latter become president — in the effort to fend off the pesky Beilat, a 35-year-old Marine veteran whose list of almae matres
reads like the top college rankings from U.S. News and World Report
And the tone at a Frank campaign rally in Newton later that night can be described as somewhere between manic and panic.
“I know, we think Barney’s tough and can handle himself, but sometimes he needs our help,” Massachusetts state legislator Peter Koutoujian tells a crowd of about a hundred gathered on the second floor of Union Pub & Grille in Newton Centre.
Newton is a town deep inside Fortress Frank, boasting solar-powered trash compactors on the sidewalks and a near six-to-one Democrat-to-Republican ratio. And yet before this friendly crowd, one plied with quesadillas and crudités and cheering loudly, Frank and a stream of local Democratic pols are full of foreboding.
“I think this is the most important off-year election that we’ve ever had,” Frank warns, saying that the “right wing” is “poised to take over the country.” Newton’s mayor says it is “absolutely critical to return Barney to the Congress at this time in our nation’s history.” Several speakers hammer how crucial it will be to turn out 2008 Democratic voters who may be feeling dejected.
And Koutoujian even calls Bielat a “formidable Republican opponent,” and “probably the best” Frank has ever faced.
Frank blames the inordinate attention on his district — a longitudinal, gerrymandered corridor stretches from Massachusetts’ south coast to the university towns west of Boston — to a now familiar source: the “flood of anonymous right-wing money” coming into the race from “outside groups.”
“Once I became chairman of the committee, I became kind of the focus of a lot of the conservative attack,” Frank says, “from Sean Hannity to Rush Limbaugh.”
“The guy running against me has made it clear that he’s not getting support because of him . . . but because people are angry with me. The Tea Party people don’t like me, because, frankly, I wouldn’t be intimidated.”
Frank won’t talk to reporters about his boyfriend’s heckling, calling it “not very important” and questioning why the media is focusing on the “etiquette” of “something as trivial as an argument between two adults” when his constituents are worried about “economics.”
Nor will Bielat use the incident to score easy points, telling NRO only that it “surprised” him that the video of the incident “reached such a large audience.”
“It was a brief interchange,” he says. “What I hope voters are listening to is my message.”