Massachusetts Congressional races tighten

By Sam Butterfield

Even in Massachusetts, widely considered the bluest of blue states, several incumbent Democrats are locked in heated battles to retain their Congressional seats.

Districts 5 and 10, consisting of parts of the North Shore and South Shore, are shaping up to be the tightest races leading up to Nov. 2’s midterm elections.

In District 5, composed of much of the North Shore and some western Boston suburbs, incumbent Niki Tsongas, widow of the late Sen. Paul Tsongas, is engaged in a stiff contest with Republican businessman Jon Golnik.

District 10, which includes the city of Quincy south to Cape Cod, appears to be even closer. There, incumbent Democrat Bill Delahunt is retiring, leaving the field open to a number of challengers. A recent poll from Boston’s PBS station WGBH and the polling firm MassINC found a near dead heat, with Democratic candidate William Keating, the former Norfolk County prosecutor, clinging to a 46-43 percent lead over Republican opponent Jeff Perry, a State Representative from the 5th Barnstable District. The poll’s margin of error at 4.9 percent, however, as well as the six percent of voters in the 400-citizen survey who said they are either undecided or would not say whom they would choose, means the race in District 10 could still be either candidates’.

In another surprisingly close contest, District 4, long held by the divisive Congressman Barney Frank, is in play this season. Frank, who has held the seat since 1981, is facing a serious threat from former Marine and management consultant Sean Bielat, a younger, more telegenic candidate who, it turns out, is causing quite a stir in this district stretching from Brookline and Newton south to New Bedford.

District 5

In District 5, which includes such cities as Andover, Haverhill, Lawrence, Methuen, Billerica, Chelmsford, Lowell and Tewksbury, incumbent Niki Tsongas, who has just completed her first full term in office after narrowly winning a 2007 special election to fill the seat vacated by Martin Meehan, faces off against Republican businessman Jon Golnik and Independents Dale E. Brown and Bob Clark.

No Republican has won in the district since 1972, and Tsongas glided to an uncontested 98.7 percent victory in 2008, but this year’s pervasive current of anti-incumbent backlash and Sen. Scott Brown’s hearty victory in the district have led GOP strategists to believe this is a race they can win. Further, the Merrimack Valley district has voted Republican in elections past; it supported Republican gubernatorial candidates William Weld, Paul Celluci and Mitt Romney, all of whom won office, and only slimly gave its support to Gov. Deval Patrick in 2006. All of this, as well as the fact that 53 percent of voters in the district are not registered with either major political party have Republicans seeing red in District 5.

Golnik, a former foreign currency trader and licensed Boston College merchandise salesman who lives in Carlisle, has received considerable attention from the national GOP, which considers this seat winnable. The Dartmouth educated 44-year-old has attacked Tsongas on her record of voting in lockstep with the Obama administration and a Democratic Congress. Tsongas has cast 98 percent of her votes along party lines.

On issues pertinent to this election, Tsongas said she will vote against ballot question three, which would scale back the state’s sales tax next year from 6.25 percent to 3 percent. Golnik said he would support such a reduction to make the state more competitive against its neighbors like New Hampshire, which has no sales tax.

Golnik recently picked up the nomination of Minnesota presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty, and has also received support from former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate Mitt Romney, as well as his predecessor, Jane Swift.

In fund raising dollars, Tsongas is walloping Golnik. According to, which tracks political donations, Tsongas had some $589,000 in her campaign account at the start of the month, compared to Golnik’s $65,000. Golnik has collected some $173,000 in individual donations, while Tsongas has pulled in over $1.3 million from private donors across the country.

District 10

District 10 is likely the state’s most steeply contested corridor. The district stretches from Quincy south and includes all of Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket counties, as well as large tracts of Plymouth County and portions of Norfolk County on the South Shore. The district has been represented since 1997 by Quincy Democrat Bill Delahunt, who announced this March that he would not seek reelection. With Delahunt’s retirement in what the Cook Partisan Voting Index ranks as the Commonwealth’s most conservative district, the field is wide open.

According to poll released yesterday by WGBH Boston, Keating holds a narrow edge over Perry, leading 46 percent to 43 percent. Like many Massachusetts races this fall, this election could come down to unaffiliated voters. While District 10 has twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans, unenrolled voters account for a larger share of the district’s electorate than both parties combined. In Monday’s WGBH poll, Perry leads among unregistered voters, 45 to 41 percent, a constituency which could help send him to Washington.

Steve Koczela, president of MassINC polling, which conducted the poll for WGBH, said in a release that the two candidates should focus their efforts the rest of the campaign on luring unaffiliated voters to their side.

“It’s essentially a toss-up among the unenrolled, as well,” he said. “That for both men is where the last few weeks of the race should lie.”

Although the race appears close, Perry holds a distinct lead in favorability among Independents. In the WGBH poll, 41 percent of unregistered voters said they had a favorable view of the State Rep., while just 26 percent said they had a favorable opinion of Keating. Overall, 37 percent had a favorable opinion of Perry and 33 percent looked favorably at Keating.

According to the Federal Election Commission, at the close of last month, Keating held a slight fund raising edge, with $278,675 on hand, compared to Perry’s $265,588.
Local and national Democratic organizations have attacked Perry for his handling of an incident regarding the questionable search of two teenage girls when he was a Wareham, Mass., police officer. Allegedly, then Wareham officer Scott Flanagan strip searched two teenagers in 1991 and 1992 under Perry’s command. In a sworn deposition in 1990, then Wareham Police Chief Thomas A. Joyce said “Perry had not been 100 percent truthful to me,” noting that Perry initially denied the searches ever took place. The families of the two girls sued the Wareham Police Department, with the jury finding in favor of the victim in one case and a pretrial settlement in the other.

Sam Butterfield can be reached at [email protected]