While the close gubernatorial race between Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Charlie Baker has generated the most headlines for the 2014 midterms in Massachusetts, two congressional races have recently started gaining more attention.
Sitting to the north of Boston, the sixth congressional district has attracted national interest in recent election cycles. In 2012, incumbent (and scandal-plagued) Democrat John Tierney barely fended off a challenge by Republican Richard Tisei, eventually winning by a little over a single percentage point. Republican strategists had licked their chops at the prospect of a 2014 rematch between Tierney and Tisei, but then Tierney lost in the Democratic primary to Iraq War veteran Seth Moulton. While Moulton lacks the personal baggage of Tierney (who had been dogged by his wife’s conviction for tax fraud in 2010), he also lacks the advantage of incumbency.
Emphasizing his personal independence and his willingness to disagree with Republican orthodoxy on a number of issues, Tisei has run a vigorous campaign against Moulton so far. Tisei’s campaign hammers on economic issues and the problems with the Affordable Care Act. He has raised well over a million dollars and has received the backing of many national organizations. Polling data for this race has swung wildly. Some polls have Moulton with an advantage, while others give a slight edge to Tisei. In an anti-incumbent year, both are trying to portray themselves as fresh voices.
Comprising Cape Cod and most of the South Shore, the ninth congressional district has tantalized local Republicans in the last few cycles. When it was still the tenth district, it witnessed a highly competitive race in 2010 between Republican Jeff Perry and Democrat Bill Keating to replace retiring Democrat Bill Delahunt. Keating eventually prevailed by a little under five points. After the 2010 Census, the tenth was redrawn and relabeled as the ninth, cutting off parts of Norfolk County, one of Keating’s strongholds. Republicans had hopes of toppling Keating in 2012, but he romped to victory over first a primary challenger and then his Republican opponent.
Now, state Republicans are hoping the third time will be the charm. A poll released last week showed Keating trailing his Republican challenger, John Chapman, by five points (40–45). According to this poll, President Obama has only a 37 percent approval rating in the ninth, and the president’s unpopularity may be dragging Keating down.
This poll may be a fluke (no other public polls have been released recently about the race), but a few other signs suggest that this contest may indeed be heating up. With the possible exception of the sixth, the ninth district is the most Republican-leaning in the state, having voted both for Scott Brown in 2012 and for Gabriel Gomez, the Republican candidate to replace John Kerry after he was appointed secretary of state, in 2013. According to the Boston Globe, Keating has visited the offices of various Democratic lobbyists in order to let them know that he “needs help.” Meanwhile, Keating’s allies and the Keating campaign itself have escalated their attacks on Chapman. Keating’s brutal personal attacks on Jeff Perry were crucial for his victory in 2010, and he may be opening up that playbook again. First elected to public office in 1976, Keating has a track record as a tough and competent campaigner.
Chapman may be a new congressional candidate, but he is no political neophyte, having served both in the Reagan White House and in Mitt Romney’s gubernatorial administration. Trying to steer clear of hot-button issues, he has criticized Keating for being out of touch with the district and for his support of many of the Obama administration’s policies — notably Obamacare, which he calls a “disaster.” Chapman’s campaign has emphasized the need for economic growth and for changes in U.S. energy policy (for instance, he supports the Keystone pipeline). Chapman supports a border-security-first approach to immigration policy and says the U.S. needs to get its fiscal house in order.
No Republican has represented any portion of Massachusetts in the House of Representatives since 1997. In both 2010 and 2012 there were some narrow losses for Republican congressional candidates. We may see more of the same in 2014, but this might instead be the year that GOP congressional hopefuls break through. If an anti-incumbent wave gathers enough force, it could wash away Democrats even in Ted Kennedy’s backyard.
— Fred Bauer is a writer from New England. He blogs at A Certain Enthusiasm, and his work has been featured in numerous publications.