Massachusetts’s 10th congressional district, which includes Cape Cod and the famed Kennedy compound, is the most conservative district in the state. Relatively speaking, of course. It has a Cook Partisan Voting Index of D+5, so “least liberal” is probably a more accurate description (by way of comparison, the 8th district, which includes Cambridge, is D+32). The 10th is exactly the kind of district that Republicans have a chance to win in this cycle. Earlier this year, Scott Brown shocked the Massachusetts political establishment by becoming the lone Republican in the state’s twelve-member congressional delegation. State representative Jeff Perry is trying to become number two.
Perry and his Democratic opponent, Norfolk County district attorney Bill Keating, are vying to succeed Rep. Bill Delahunt (D.), a seven-term incumbent who announced his retirement in March. Perry, who served with Scott Brown for eight years in the state legislature, has sought to cast himself in the junior senator’s mold and frequently touts their relationship on the campaign trail (Brown endorsed Perry six months before the Republican primary, and just two months after his own victory).
Isaac Wood, House-race editor at Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball newsletter, says breaking the Democratic stronghold in Massachusetts won’t be easy but is definitely possible. “Obama is not as unpopular and the Democratic brand has not suffered as much as it has in other parts of the country,” Wood says, “but Scott Brown demonstrated that voters are willing to vote for a Republican.”
An October 18 poll by WGBH and MassINC shows the race to be nearly a dead heat; Perry leads by one point — 41 to 40 percent — among likely voters, with 13 percent undecided. “The race is very much unsettled,” Wood says. “Neither side knows for sure.”
Keating is certainly behaving like the underdog in this race. His campaign has consisted primarily of attack ads against Perry. Some of these are standard fare — for example, accusing him (falsely) of wanting to privatize Social Security. Others are more malign.
Just last week (October surprise, anyone?) a woman came forward accusing Perry, a former police sergeant, of being complicit in an illegal strip search performed on her nearly 20 years ago by an officer under Perry’s command. Since then, Keating and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have pounced, or, in the words of a Perry campaign spokesman, “littered” and “carpet-bombed” the district with material spotlighting the allegations. “Can we trust Jeff Perry?” a voice grumbles in Keating’s latest television spot. “He was steps away from a teenage girl being sexually assaulted, but did nothing to stop it.”
Perry has said he had no knowledge of the illegal search when it was taking place. “I didn’t know [it was] happening,” he said. “If I did I would have put handcuffs on him and locked him up myself.” He accuses Keating of running a “smear and fear” campaign, noting the “suspicious timing” of the allegations.
Meanwhile, state and local media have devoted plenty of ink and air time to the accuser’s side of the story. One GOP strategist tells National Review Online that the state’s liberal base is terrified that an authentic conservative like Perry (he is pro-life, supports “a hard line against illegal immigration,” and wants to repeal Obamacare) has a legitimate shot to win this race, and will do anything to stop him.
Keating’s tenure as district attorney, which includes a dubious record of plea bargains for violent criminals, has received far less coverage. One investigative reporter found that defendants who pleaded guilty to rape in Keating’s jurisdiction, Norfolk County, were sentenced to less than half the amount of time they would have received in neighboring Plymouth County.
With less than a week to go before November 2, it appears that Keating’s campaign is going with a “duck and cover” strategy and hoping the liberal base will deliver on Election Day (sound familiar?). In the past two weeks, Keating has pulled out of three debates, citing “other commitments.” He is probably wise. His past performances have done little to inspire confidence.
At a breakfast forum hosted by the South Shore Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, Keating twice said he would not have voted for the stimulus package. “I would not have supported that,” he said. “I would not have supported that particular stimulus package.” Later that day, his campaign released a statement saying that Keating “misspoke”: He would have voted for the stimulus, though he would have preferred “something more targeted to rebuilding our infrastructure.”
Keating has also flat-out refused to say whether or not he would support Nancy Pelosi for House speaker in the event that the Democrats retain their majority. When asked during a debate in Plymouth earlier this month, Keating, faced with frustrated audience members shouting, “Yes or no?” remained steadfast in his waffling, saying he would “keep an open mind.”
“It’s obvious the Democrats are playing defense with this one,” Perry tells National Review Online. “They don’t want another crack in the armor up here in Massachusetts.” He says Scott Brown’s win changed the “psychology of Massachusetts politics”: It has given voters a fresh perspective after decades of having only Sens. Ted Kennedy and John Kerry as reference points. “They see what a great job Brown is doing and see that it’s okay to vote for a Republican,” Perry says.
Tory Mazzola, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, says the race boils down to a referendum on the Democratic leadership in Washington. “Voters in this district are looking for a leader who refuses to be a rubber stamp for Nancy Pelosi,” he says. “All across Massachusetts, voters are denied that.”
The two parties’ congressional-campaign committees have invested more than $500,000 each in the race so far, and have sent Washington aides to help with the campaigns. The NRCC has spent nearly $700,000 on advertising, nearly half of that coming in the past week.
Democrats are clearly feeling the heat. Vice President Joe Biden has scheduled a last-minute visit to the district on Saturday to stump for Keating. Republicans note that President Obama did the same for Martha Coakley in January, and they are hoping for a similar result.
Massachusetts isn’t exactly “turning red,” but a second Republican victory in a state that gave Obama 62 percent of its vote in 2008 would send a powerful message indeed.
— Andrew Stiles writes for National Review Online’s Battle ’10 blog.