Frank and Bielat at an Oct. 11 debate
The Cook Political Report, the influential forecasting firm in Washington, D.C., released new ratings on competitive open U.S. House seats Thursday – and for the second time this month, Cook has upgraded Republican Sean Bielat’s chances of defeating Democrat Barney Frank in his bid for a 16th term representing Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional District in Congress.
David Wasserman, Cook’s House editor, switched his rating on MA-4 from “Likely Democratic” to “Lean Democratic” – the same rating he has on the RI-1 race between David Cicilline and John Loughlin.
That means the Frank-Bielat contest is among those “considered competitive races but [where] one party has an advantage,” whereas before Wasserman just thought it could become competitive but hadn’t yet.
In short, Bielat has turned what could have been another waltz to re-election for Frank into a truly competitive race. Our WPRI 12 poll earlier this month showed Frank at 49% and Bielat at 37%, with 12% of voters still undecided.
Bielat was actually just here in our studios taping a half-hour appearance on “Newsmakers” that will air this weekend. The program was supposed to be a debate between Bielat and Frank, but the Democrat backed out. The interview with Bielat will be shown Saturday night in prime time.
I’ve asked the folks at Cook for a copy of Wasserman’s analysis on the Frank-Bielat race, and I’ll update this once I receive it.
Update: Taking a closer look at Cook’s new chart of competitive House races, it’s worth noting that Frank’s seat is the most heavily Democratic one the party could lose next Tuesday. Its Partisan Voting Index, or PVI – which measures how strongly a district leans toward one party – is “D+14,” meaning Democrats usually do 14 points better there than they do nationwide. Patrick Kennedy’s seat is next, with a “D+13″ PVI.
I could do a whole day’s worth of posts about why Southeastern New England has suddenly become an unexpected battleground for Democrats, but for now I’ll just point out that the area’s unemployment problem is worse than anywhere else in New England outside of Maine. That can’t help incumbents.
Update #2: Here’s Cook editor David Wasserman’s full write-up on why he upgraded Bielat’s chances against Frank:
Very few 30-year incumbents release a poll one day showing them leading 56% to 37%, then take $200,000 out of their retirement plan to fund their race. Then again, very few incumbents are Barney Frank. Multiple media polls taken since then have shown the Financial Services chairman under 50%, including a Boston Globe survey showing Frank leading Marine Corps Reservist Sean Bielat 46% to 33%, with a high number of undecided independents. That makes some sense after Frank has endured a rough spate of press, including his camera-wielding partner’s awkward confrontation of Bielat.
Bielat has raised an astounding $600,000 in the first two weeks of October (more than his campaign had raised the whole year prior). Obviously the cash is mostly flooding in from outside the district, but it means Bielat has the resources to play David versus Frank’s Goliath on the airwaves in the final week. One ad set to steel drums intones, “While you were worried about your job or mortgage, Barney Frank was on his way to the islands on a private jet owned by a Wall Street fat cat who got millions in bailouts.” This is an extremely Democratic district, and Frank is still the favorite, but it’s a race.
As always, thank you to Cook for sharing it with me.
Update #3: WRNI’s Ian Donnis notes an interesting piece by Republican strategist Todd Domke, who compares Bielat’s candidacy this year to Rhode Island Republican Ronald Machtley’s successful 1988 campaign against veteran Democratic Congressman Fernand St. Germain. (Machtley, who was succeeded by Patrick Kennedy in 1995, is now president of Bryant University.)