In 2002, before the now-infamous congressional vote giving President Bush the authority to wage war in Iraq, Dunkelbarger was part of a group that traveled to Washington to convince Lynch to vote no. When they met with the congressman, Dunkelbarger recalls, he acknowledged that calls to his office were running seven to one in favor of a no vote. But Lynch also spoke of attending classified briefings in the White House, in which then–CIA director George Tenet and other Bush-administration heavyweights outlined the severity of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.
To this day, Lynch cites those briefings as critical to his eventual decision to vote yes. (When the Phoenix asked Lynch about the seven-to-one figure, he acknowledged that constituent feedback was “heavily in favor” of a no vote, but added that opponents were more likely to call than proponents.) Dunkelbarger, however, points out that the Bush administration appointed John Poindexter and Elliott Abrams — both of whom were previously convicted of lying to Congress — to key positions in the run-up to the war. Lynch, he believes, had ample cause for skepticism.
“You know you can’t believe these people,” Dunkelbarger says. “You have a good suspicion they don’t have much regard for the truth. Ted Kennedy, your senior senator, is telling you ‘go slow’, and your constituents are telling you seven to one not to do it. Why would you do it? The best face you can put on it is that the guy has extremely, extremely poor judgment, in the face of all this evidence, to decide to exercise leadership and vote for the resolution.”
Of course, Lynch was hardly the only Democrat to support the resolution. But he was the only member of the Massachusetts delegation to support the GOP’s “Stay the Course in Iraq” resolution earlier this month. “He was all alone this time,” Dunkelbarger says. “He’s the only one who voted with the Republicans. Unbelievable.”
Iraq, in fact, is at the core of Dunkelbarger’s domestic critique of Lynch as well. As the challenger sees it, the $8 billion the US pumps into Iraq each month means that pressing local needs simply can’t be addressed — which, in turn, means that the laborers who make up a vital part of Lynch’s political base aren’t getting jobs. To bolster his case, Dunkelbarger cites an op-ed Lynch recently co-wrote in the Globe, calling for construction of the North-South Rail Link.
“Here’s a guy who supposedly represents the working people of his district,” Dunkelbarger says. “His whole interest in the rail link is that it’s potentially the next big job. All the points he made in that article are dead on — but there isn’t any money for it. And why isn’t there any money for it? Because we’re sending $8 billion a month overseas to Iraq. You might as well tell those construction workers to make an application to Halliburton and build bridges in Iraq, because that’s where the money’s going.”
How Dunk could get his groove on
The advantages of incumbency are strong enough that, even in a best-case scenario, Dunkelbarger would have a hard time beating Lynch. And Dunkelbarger — or “Dunk,” as his supporters call him — lacks several attendant circumstances, present in Ned Lamont’s challenge, that could make the race more competitive.