Campaign 2010

Democrats hold edge in two key House contests

But lead slim in 10th; GOP finds new vigor

By Alan Wirzbicki
Globe Staff / October 25, 2010

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With the election just a week away, Democrats lead in two of the state’s most closely watched congressional races but are battling to hold on amid far greater enthusiasm among Republican voters, according to new Boston Globe polls.

US Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Newton, leads his Republican challenger, Sean Bielat, by 13 percentage points among likely voters in the Fourth Congressional District. In the race for the open seat in the neighboring 10th District, Norfolk District Attorney William R. Keating leads state Representative Jeffrey D. Perry by 4 percentage points, within that survey’s margin of error.

In both races, however, supporters of the Republican nominees say they are more excited about the election, which often correlates to higher turnout on Election Day, said Andrew E. Smith, the director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. The center conducted the polls for the Globe.

Among those who say they are excited about Nov. 2, Bielat and Perry have double-digit leads, the polls indicate.

“There’s more enthusiasm on the part of all Republican voters,’’ Smith said. A Globe poll on the gubernatorial race released yesterday found a similar enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats.

Among likely voters in their districts, Frank leads Bielat, 46 percent to 33 percent, while Keating leads Perry, 37 percent to 33 percent, the polls found. The surveys, of 385 likely voters in the Fourth District and 349 voters in the 10th, had margins of error of 5 percent and 5.2 percent, respectively. Both were taken from Oct. 17-22.

All 10 Massachusetts seats in the House of Representatives are held by Democrats, but Republicans, energized by Scott Brown’s surprise victory in the special Senate election in January, say this is their best chance in years of breaking Democratic dominance of the House delegation. There are contests in all but one district.

The 10th District, which includes Cape Cod and the South Shore, gave Brown his greatest margin of victory in the state, and has been considered the best opportunity for a Republican pickup, especially after seven-term incumbent William D. Delahunt announced he would retire.

According to the Globe’s poll in the 10th, an unusually large number of voters remain undecided, with 23 percent indicating no preference. (Two independent candidates in the race together won the support of 5 percent of respondents.)

“This one I think is wide open and it’s going to go down to the wire,’’ Smith said. “Neither of these guys is that well known.’’

Independents, typically the bloc of voters that decides Massachusetts elections, are roughly split between Keating and Perry, the poll shows.

In follow-up interviews, several poll respondents said they were voting for Perry out of frustration with the Obama administration.

“The Democrats are doing a lousy job,’’ said Dennis Motta, 70, a retired electrical engineer from Plymouth. “Obama has done a lousy job, the House has gone basically with whatever he’s wanted, and we spent a trillion dollars and we still have unemployment as high as it was before.’’

But several poll respondents also said they were troubled by Perry’s role in illegal strip-searches of two teenagers by a police officer under his command when Perry served in the Wareham Police Department in the early 1990s. One of the victims, Lisa Allen, rocked the race last week when she broke years of silence and released a statement saying Perry had failed to stop the assault and then helped cover it up. Perry has defended his actions in both cases.

“If he did it then, what happens if he gets into office with all that power?’’ said Jack Shannon of Quincy, 79, a part-time small-business owner.

Patricia Hess of Brewster, an adjunct professor at UMass Dartmouth, said she was opposed to both Perry and his policies.

“I don’t like the history he’s had with being present when a strip search was being conducted, I don’t like the attitude of ‘just say no’ and obstructionist politics, and I guess I basically don’t like his belief that, lower the taxes and everything will be just fine,’’ she said, adding that she would vote for Keating despite disagreeing with his support for Cape Wind.

In the Fourth District, Bielat, a business consultant and ex-Marine from Brookline, has become a fixture on conservative talk radio and favorite of Republican activists nationally, but voters in the district, according to follow-up interviews, seemed unsure of his positions, background, or even that he was running at all, while many voiced support for Frank, who has represented the diverse district for three decades.

“I think he’s served us very, very well over many, many years. My impression is he’s a very bright man, very funny, and very liberal,’’ said Hugh Coffman, a pediatric psychologist in Brookline. “I don’t know anything about his opponent.’’

Nancy Glynn of Marshfield, 48, an unemployed mortgage underwriter, said she was not voting for Governor Deval Patrick, but was supporting Frank because of his support for the fishing industry.

“He’s been a great guy,’’ she said.

But Manuel Ganz, 71, a retiree from Brookline, said he would be voting the GOP party line in the election.

“Basically, I’m a conservative. I don’t care who it is, I’m voting for the Republican,’’ Ganz said.

The poll found that Frank enjoys especially strong support from women, who chose him over Bielat by a two-to-one margin.

Still, Smith said that although Frank’s lead is large, Bielat’s supporters are more enthusiastic.

“It’s kind of good news and bad news for Frank,’’ Smith said. “The good news is he has a fairly significant lead, but the downside is that he’s the incumbent and he’s at less than 50 percent.’’

In the rest of the state, voters were asked generically if they planned to vote for their Democratic or Republican candidate for Congress. Forty-seven percent of likely voters said they will vote Democratic, and 33 percent say they will vote for a Republican. But among those voters who say they are excited about the election, Republicans lead, 46 percent to 33 percent.

Alan Wirzbicki can be reached at

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