Congressman Barney Frank’s decision to retire at the end of his current term has set in motion a spectacle of political punditry that should vastly improve the sale of hip boots at Cabela’s during the course of the next 11 months.
Hundreds of reporters, consultants and political operatives will be eager to tell you how the race to succeed Frank will turn out; after all, politics is a professional sporting industry in Massachusetts.
The 4th Congressional District is brand new. Some out-of-state Democrats are claiming the 4th CD is solidly Democratic. They are right on paper, but wrong in reality. A previously unknown state senator named Scott Brown won wide margins in almost all of the smaller towns of the district, overwhelming Coakley’s advantages in larger, liberal communities, like Newton, Needham and Brookline, on his way to winning a seat in the U.S. Senate. Even without Frank on the ballot, expect the GOP to use him as foil for national fundraising and riling up right-leaning independents.
The race for the open seat will occur in the context of a presidential election. The Brown-Coakley affair was a special election. Voter turn-out in this contest will be exceptional and the Republican presidential nominee will make an important difference. If it’s former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the Republican congressional candidate will benefit the most. Jobs and the economy will be a dominant issue, but no one can predict the trickle-down atmospherics and secondary issues this far out. Candidates will need to lean toward their party base in the primaries then shift toward the center for the general election.
The field will be crowded with no shoo-in. Thanks to Brown’s upset, there are dozens of relatively unknown candidates who think they can win this seat – mayors, state reps, state senators, operatives, etc. This is not a mass media district. There are wealthy, executive communities to the north, bedroom communities in the center and blue-collar, working-class communities in the south. Retail tactics will be critical – local organization, local endorsements, local media, shoe leather and handshakes.
All things considered, the early line would appear to favor a moderate who can connect with voters on a personal level, and who offers a strong record of constituent services and proven results on a grassroots level.
Frank’s high profile will draw national media attention to the race, overshadowing the state’s other open congressional seat representing Cape Cod and the Southcoast.
But beware the Barney Blarney. The national pundits may try to make this race about ideology, but we live in pragmatic times and most voters are looking for non-partisan or bi-partisan solutions to the practical challenges this Congress can’t seem to tackle.
The initial epitaphs on Frank and his career in public service will be the subject of a future post, but the most thoughtful and interesting take thus far appeared in the Lifestyle section of today’s Washington Post.
That piece may make Frank chuckle, but this farewell in the Herald News in blue-collar Fall River will make him proud.