Under the Media Radar: They Also Run

There are 435 Congressional districts, and in most election years, 5 to 10% of them have competitive races, almost always won by an incumbent.  In recent years, a much higher percentage of open seats have turned over between the parties, than seats where the existing Congressman or Congresswoman is running again.

This year, the number of competitive seats is higher than average (perhaps 15%), and the potential for the defeat of a number of incumbents (particularly Republicans) seems substantially higher than in the last few cycles.  Approximately 90% of the Congressional races in 2004 saw the winner obtain at least 55% of the  vote in 2004.  With the GOP in a defensive posture for the November races, Republican challengers in districts with Democratic incumbents, are getting less attention than normal. This is particularly the case in districts where Democrats have had a big edge in recent elections.

Nonetheless, the Republican challengers in these districts soldier on. I talked with one of them this week, running in Massachusetts 10.

Jeff Beatty is a corporate executive of a transportation security firm. He has never run for public office before, but has a long history of public service: as a Delta Force officer, an FBI agent, and a CIA counter—terrorism officer.  It is almost like another man with the initials JB — Jack Bauer of '24' — suiting up for the election.

Massachusetts 10 is as competitive as a district gets in the Bay State. The district includes the South Shore suburbs of Boston, Cape Cod, and the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. In 2004, Kerry beat Bush by 56% to 43% in the 10th. That was by far the closest race between the two candidates in any district in the state.  Kerry won Massachusetts by 62% to 37%, his biggest margin in any state.

The last GOP congressman from Massachusetts, was Peter Blute, who lost his seat in the 3d district in 1994. In the very year when the GOP took control of both branches of Congress, picking up 52 House seats.  The GOP lost its only seat in Massachusetts in that pivotal year. Both Senators and all ten Congressmen in Massachusetts are from one party.

No delegation that large in Congress from any other state consists of a single party. Eighty percent of the state legislators are Democrats, too. It would be a gross understatement to say Massachusetts is a solid blue state.  But unanimity is common in Massachusetts. Everybody roots for the Red Sox, pretty much all the faculty members at all the many colleges hate George Bush, and a Republican never gets elected, except to be Governor and counterbalance the free—spending Democrats in the legislature.  The current Governor, Mitt Romney is a Republican, who carried the 10th district with 56% of the vote in 2002.  As Beatty told me, and I checked it out, Ronald Reagan carried the district in 1980 and 1984, and George Herbert Walker Bush won it over Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis in 1988. So if the state is deep blue, the 10th district may be a bit purple.

In a year that is trending Democratic, in a district Kerry won by 13%, and in which the incumbent Congressman, William Delahunt, won with  66% and 69% the last two elections, Beatty would seem on the surface to have a very uphill climb  to make this race competitive.

The Hugo Chavez Factor

But that is to ignore the Hugo Chavez factor. For Congressman Delahunt is Hugo Chavez's favorite Congressman.  It was Delahunt who negotiated a deal to get discounted home heating oil through Venezuelan—owned Citgo to residents of part of several New England states. Delahunt called Chavez' offer a great humanitarian act.  Delahunt has been Chavez' most reliable defender, and ally in the House of Representatives, much like Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd has carried the water for Chavez and for many years for Fidel Castro, in the Senate.

In Miami, Delahunt would be in big trouble for this behavior. Flirting with Chavez, a man who has spent the last year buddying up with Castro, Evo Morales of Bolivia, North Korea's Kim Jong—il, and Iran's holocaust—denying yet holocaust—threatening President Ahmadinejad, might be reasonably regarded as stupid, and damaging to American interests. Serving as a Chavez acolyte certainly undermines the Administration's efforts to isolate Chavez at a time when Chavez is trying to swing one county after another in Latin America against the US.  Giving some much—needed public relations gifts to Chavez in exchange for a few cents off the heating oil price for one winter smacks of doing business with the devil, and losing badly on the deal. But if Massachusetts is a nation unto itself, then Delahunt must think he knows what he is doing, and that he won't be punished politically for it.

During his 5 terms in Congress, Delahunt has become a more and more predictable liberal vote on pretty much all issues. Could a general anti—incumbency wave this cycle, and a fresh face in first time candidate Beatty set the stage for an upset in a district that occasionally votes Republican? Beatty says a Green Party candidate, Peter White, might get 5 to 10% of the vote, slicing off part of the Bush Derangement Syndrome crowd from Delahunt. 

The odds are against Beatty winning, though Beatty is working hard to introduce himself to the district and get his message out on national security and job growth. Bigger surprises have occurred. After all, the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004. So for one November at least, Massachusetts residents were a little less blue.

Richard Baehr is the chief political corrspondent of The American Thinker.