BOSTON – Barney Frank has been an institution in Congress for almost three decades. Most years Frank’s reelection bid is not much of a political story. However, as many are discussing, it is not politics as usual, even for Frank. As polls are indicating, Bielat is forcing Frank into serious campaign mode. This is hampering his more traditional status of supporting other campaigns in their efforts. While I knew this would be an interesting political year in Massachusetts, watching Frank have to run for office has been an unexpected surprise.
Town Hall meetings have not been a friendly venue for Congressman Frank. As a politician who has not seen many challenges, these meetings have proved a public relations challenge for the representative. In a very left leaning district, one would expect Frank to have a welcoming crowd. However, voters have challenged Frank in ways he has never seen before. His lack of experience with handling voters who disagree with his performance has not helped his popularity ratings. As he strikes out at voters, Barney Frank for the first time is noticing his personality is not considered endearing. In the past, voters have accepted Frank’s lack of charm in return for his ability to deliver money and legislation his district has requested. As people have raised questions this year, Frank’s inability to handle criticism has become an election issue.
Voters want politicians who can take responsibility for their actions. In the past, Frank has praised his own accomplishments widely. In a year where the Congressman is vulnerable, Frank is claiming media bias as a cause of his declining polls. He is ignoring his own actions as potential reasons for the people in his district questioning if they wish to have a new representative in Congress. Instead, he is focusing on media turning a population who has been fiercely loyal for decades against him. Strangely, the Congressman never commented when media bias helped foster that loyalty at the expense of any challengers to his election bids.
This strategy of blaming the media is one the Congressman hopes will move his base to come out and support him in the election. There is a liberal base that shares Frank’s belief that some media outlets do target liberal candidates unfairly. This strategy could help Frank move his base to vote. However, it is a risk. Barney Frank does have a record to answer for and the mood in this election does not support victims. People are demanding accountability. In previous years, I would have thought Frank’s strategy had potential. I am not as sure that this victim campaign strategy works in this election cycle. I think the risk outweighs the benefits of pushing himself as a strong leader in the district.
However, Bielat has challenges as well. Frank’s district is socially and fiscally liberal. While many voters are leaning towards more fiscal conservatives in a tight election, Bielat’s stated social conservative views may be harder to sell in a very socially liberal district. Frank has always done well among socially liberal voters in the area. The question remains if voters are willing to vote for a more conservative candidate who would have to work hard to keep his seat in the following election or continue with a Congressman who has proven contempt for his electorate. Frank also has more cash and political resources than Bielat to draw on in the last month leading up to the election. Former President Clinton has been in the district campaigning for Frank and local politicians have reasons to want this seat to stay in Barney Frank’s hands.
Voters in the Fourth Congressional District have a unique chance to make a choice this election. It may be the last chance they have to choose to replace Barney Frank until he himself makes the choice to leave office. Replacing a Republican in Massachusetts that you do not like is rarely difficult. However, a Democrat who has expressed contempt for his district like Frank rarely finds himself vulnerable in this state. People will tolerate a great deal from a politician with money and power. This is a rare chance for change.
“Barney Frank Goes Toe to Toe at Town Hall” CNN
“Barney Frank on Mid-Term Race: Right Wing Media Targeted Me” Washington Times
“Stumping for Frank” The Sun Chronicle
“Time for a New Voice” Sean Bielat