Rivals offer South Shore, Cape voters a clear choice
QUINCY — With the balloons still settling on their primary victory parties, Republican Jeffrey D. Perry and Democrat William R. Keating last night quickly turned their attention to what is expected to be a bitterly fought general election campaign for the open congressional seat representing the South Shore and Cape Cod in Washington.
On issues ranging from health care and Social Security to the war in Afghanistan and Cape Wind, the two men will offer voters a stark choice in a contest that is attracting national attention because a Perry victory in Massachusetts could help tip control of the House to the GOP.
Perry, a state representative from Sandwich, and Keating, the current Norfolk district attorney, now have seven weeks to win over an unsettled electorate before the Nov. 2 general election.
The incumbent, William D. Delahunt, who is retiring after seven terms in Congress, said yesterday he would hit the trail this morning in Quincy with Keating and would also campaign in Plymouth and Hyannis. Republicans are hoping to hold a unity breakfast in Plymouth on Saturday.
The 10th Congressional District stretches from Quincy to Provincetown and is one of the most conservative in the state, although Democrats have a two-to-one registration advantage. Republican Scott Brown won the district by 20 points in the January special election for US Senate, defeating Democrat Martha Coakley by a larger margin than in any of the other nine Massachusetts congressional districts.
Perry yesterday defeated Joseph D. Malone, a former state treasurer from Scituate, and two other candidates in the Republican primary. Malone had the endorsement of former Republican governors William Weld and Paul Cellucci and entered the race with high name recognition, but Perry, who ran to Malone’s right, collected endorsements from dozens of local Republicans and built a strong volunteer organization. Celebrating his victory with supporters last night, Perry asked for support from Democrats, but showed no sign of shifting his positions toward the center, proclaiming himself a “hard-liner on illegal immigration’’ and vowing to fight against the Democratic agenda.
“What’s happening here is happening across the country,’’ Perry said. “We’ve had enough. We are taking back our country right now.’’
During the primary campaign, Perry faced questions about conflicting statements he made regarding a subordinate’s illegal strip searches of two teenage girls when Perry was a police sergeant in Wareham in the early 1990s.
Perry, who was elected to the Massachusetts House in 2002, braced his supporters last night for a bruising campaign ahead. “We are sick and tired of the mudslinging, the partisanship, and the negativity in politics,’’ he said.
Not long after he spoke, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released a statement attacking Perry as “a scandal-plagued Republican,’’ citing the Wareham cases.
On the Democratic side, Keating, who recently moved into the district by relocating from Sharon to Quincy, defeated state Senator Robert O’Leary, from Barnstable, in yesterday’s primary. In a sometimes acrimonious campaign, they had clashed over Social Security and the war in Afghanistan. O’Leary accused Keating of supporting a plan to send more troops to Afghanistan, a charge Keating denied. Keating, meanwhile, accused O’Leary of favoring a higher age for Social Security retirement.
“We’re all sick of our economy the way it is,’’ Keating said in his speech last night. “I can help turn things around in Congress.’’
Delahunt, a former district attorney, was first elected in 1996. He said in March he would not run for another two-year term, setting off a scramble in both parties to fill a rare vacancy in the Massachusetts congressional delegation.
Despite the heated rhetoric leading up to the election, turnout was light. For example, only a trickle of voters showed up at Plymouth’s town hall, where reporters outnumbered voters for part of the afternoon. Laurence R. Pizer, Plymouth’s town clerk, said only 191 absentee ballots had been requested for the primary, compared to about 1,500 in the race between Brown and Coakley earlier this year.
One Plymouth voter, Bill Murphy, 74, a retired police officer and independent who took a Republican ballot to vote for Malone, said he thought the district was ripe for Republican takeover, with GOP candidates “riding a wave of disgust at the Democratic Party.’’
“There’s a great number of people who feel the same way I do,’’ he said.
At the First Baptist Church in Quincy, Jack Greene, 39, an attorney, pushing his 15-month old son Kevin in a stroller at the polls, said he was voting for Keating but Perry was formidable.
“I hear a lot of strong support for Perry,’’ he said. “It surprises me, given the negative attacks on him.’’
Christopher Devin, 60, a Braille proofreader who voted for Keating, said that while he thought the seat would probably remain in Democratic hands, the Republicans were mounting a serious challenge. “It certainly is going to be more contested than it usually is,’’ he said.
Alan Wirzbicki can be reached at email@example.com.