Money, for one. Dunkelbarger doesn’t have the personal wealth of Lamont: his stints in the aquaculture and seafood-distribution industries have left him well-off, but not rich, and he says he’ll cap his campaign spending at a relatively paltry $50,000. (By way of comparison, in 2001, state senator Brian Joyce — one of two other candidates vying to represent the Ninth after Joe Moakley’s death — spent about $250,000 on direct mail alone.) Dunkelbarger insists, though, that for his campaign — based on handing out palm cards contrasting his liberal positions with Lynch’s conservative stances in as many public places as possible — that’s enough cash. “That’s plenty to do what we need to do,” he vows.)
What’s more, Lynch simply hasn’t been identified as a Bush accomplice in the same way Lieberman has. Lieberman has aspired to the highest levels of Democratic power, which is what made his various apostasies (defending the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war, hugging and getting a kiss from the president after the 2005 State of the Union speech) so galling. Lynch has yet to rise to Liebermanic heights in the Democratic Party — and he’s never engaged in PDA with Bush.
In fact, Lynch tells the Phoenix, statistics belie Dunkelbarger’s contention that he’s a Bush flunky. According to Congressional Quarterly, Lynch notes, he votes against the president 85 percent of the time; for Barney Frank, Lynch’s liberal colleague, that number is 86 percent. “I would say that is a clear refutation of what my opponent is saying,” he says. It’s a strong rebuttal. But if you see the Iraq war as the dominant issue facing America today — as Dunkelbarger does, and as plenty of voters do — those sundry disagreements with Bush pale in significance.
Lynch also stands by his vote in the Schiavo case — “I didn’t support it coming to Congress, but once it’s here, I have to take the matter on its merits” — and concedes that, in retrospect, giving Bush the authority to invade Iraq was a mistake. In fact, this is the one place where Lynch grows exasperated while discussing his challenger. “Three and a half years after the case, he’s saying he would have voted differently,” Lynch says. “Well, if I had the information we have now, I would have voted differently. There’s no courage in that; there’s no vision in that. That’s rear-view-mirror stuff.” (This dismissal may be too facile: after all, Dunkelbarger trekked to Washington to plead with Lynch before the vote in question.)
Another factor working in Lynch’s favor: as an Irish-American ex-ironworker from South Boston, most people expect him to be a Democrat with some centrist or conservative tendencies. And while the Ninth District as a whole may not have quite the Democratic conservatism of Southie in particular, it’s hardly a liberal enclave. “This district is crafted for a guy like Lynch,” says one Democratic observer, noting the abundance of working-class Irish in neighborhoods like Southie, Dorchester, and West Roxbury, not to mention a bevy of socially conservative suburbs to the south of the city. “Many of these are towns that voted for Bush, the father, over Dukakis [in the 1988 presidential election]. These are not left-of-center people.”