The upcoming national midterm elections are shaping up as a big Republican wave. According to most pundits, the brutal economy, disappointment in President Barack Obama, and a perceived "enthusiasm gap" between Republicans and Democrats will combine to hand victories to dozens of GOP candidates for Congress — perhaps even enough to vault them back into the majority they lost in 2006.
Although Senator Scott Brown's stunning special-election victory earlier this year ignited this wave of GOP optimism, there is reason to believe that Republican national gains might not include any of the 10 Bay State seats, all of which have been safely in Democratic hands for the past 14 years.
But if there is a seat up for grabs, it is probably in the 10th Congressional District, which runs from Quincy down the South Shore to Cape Cod, and where seven-term incumbent Bill Delahunt is retiring.
That race pits Norfolk County District Attorney William Keating, a Democrat, against Jeff Perry, a Republican state representative from East Sandwich. The district went for Brown in January, and Perry trounced former state treasurer Joe Malone in the Republican primary. Republicans say that polling shows Perry ahead of Keating, and well-positioned for victory; even many Democratic insiders are pessimistic, and unimpressed with Keating's campaign thus far.
It appears, however, that in these final weeks, the race may become less about Perry and Keating and more about how much money the national Republican and Democratic parties can pump into the embattled district.
The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) have both started airing television ads in the district, and are promising much more to come.
"This is one of our better pick-up opportunities in New England," says Tory Mazzola, NRCC spokesperson.
As the national ground has shifted — with some "battleground" races now almost conceded to the Republicans — this sleepy seaside district has assumed real tactical importance for both parties.
Mazzola would not confirm reports that his committee has reserved a half-million dollars in advertising time in the race, but left little doubt about what kind of ads to expect. As in contests across the country, the GOP wants to tie the local Democrat to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi — who, according to polls, is currently one of the least-popular political figures in the country, and who has replaced the late senator Ted Kennedy as the opposition's demonizing face of Washington liberalism.
"We want to educate the voters of Massachusetts so they know that a vote for Bill Keating is a vote for Speaker Pelosi," Mazzola says. "Bill Keating would go to Washington and fall in line with Nancy Pelosi, just like every other Massachusetts Democrat."
Nor is there much mystery to the DCCC approach. Its current ad in the district hammers away at Perry's involvement in strip-search incidents as a police officer years ago. That story has continued to cause trouble this past week, with revelations that Perry claimed on his 2007 bar application, untruthfully, that one of the strip-search victims had been arrested.
In broad terms, the Republicans are trying to make this race a national referendum on Democrats in Washington, while Democrats are trying to make it about Perry's character.