"Barney and his colleagues need to go," challenger Sean Bielat told a group of RetireBarney fans at a Constitution Ride Across America rally at the State House yesterday: "Barney Frank's been at the heart of the financial meltdown and the real estate crisis … As a businessman I understand what it takes to create jobs, I understand the need for fiscal responsibility in Washington. As a Marine, I understand that we achieve peace through strength. And as an American I realize that we need to return to our Constitutional values and the idea of citizen legislators."
"You can call me Congressman," quipped Barney Frank challenger Sean Bielat when we asked permission to call him "Sean" during a cordial and informative phone interview yesterday. Incumbent Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee since 2007 and enthroned upon the "Frank Seat" (MA-4) for nearly 30 years, has grown politically fat and perhaps campaign lazy after decades in office without a serious opponent. We hear he's been looking over his shoulder, polling the popularity of our man Sean since April, when Bielat's RetireBarney campaign started building up steam. And Barney — May we call you Barney? — has started attacking his challenger by name, the surest sign that he's taking Bielat's candidacy seriously. As Framingham lawyer Robert Snider writes in his excellent PJM piece "Might Barney Frank Lose?":
A primary reason Frank has stayed in office since 1981 is that the Fourth is a carefully gerrymandered district [that] connects the Volvo liberals of Newton and Brookline to the Democratic, blue-collar cities of Fall River and New Bedford. It meanders from the Boston city limits south, all the way to the ocean — overwhelming the intervening leafy bedroom communities like Dover and Lakeville …
A legitimate, Republican candidate — with a modicum of gravitas — has not tested Barney recently …
Electoral history seems to support an inference that the Fourth has an intimidating percentage of registered Democrats, but this is not the case: the current breakdown is 38% Democrat, 11% Republican, and 50% independent. Even in the five Democratic cities, registered Democrats do not outnumber the total of registered Republicans and registered independents. In the special election of 2010, Scott Brown won every one of the bedroom communities and failed to reach 50% only in the four urban cities and Sharon.
Bielat told us he didn't expect to change too many minds among the die-hard Democrats who voted for Coakley in the special election last January, but Scott Brown did win the Fourth overall, and Brown supporters and tea party activists have been signing on as early volunteers. Count us among them! Already 20,000 phone calls have gone out, with 3/4 support among what are called "high-performance" Republicans and unenrolleds (the Massachusetts term for Independents). We protested that from our own experience phonebanking for Brown, voters mostly don't like those calls from strangers, but — like negative campaigning itself — phonebanks work. The campaign is up and running on Facebook and Twitter, which is right up our alley.
But given our junior Senator's disappointing, big-government votes on the jobs and financial reform bills, could the great energizer that is the Brown Revolution be a double-edged sword? We asked Sean in a series of written questions and will publish his more extended, written answers as soon as they become available. For now, consistent with his born-and-bred limited-government, free-market philosophy as expressed on his campaign website (click on "Views"), Bielat assured us he would have voted against the jobs and fin/ed bills and has signed the "Contract from America." As Dick Armey and Matt Kibbe wrote in their WSJ op ed the other day, referring to candidates like Sean Bielat across the nation who have signed the "statement of policy principles generated online by hundreds of thousands of grass-roots activists":
These young legislative entrepreneurs will shift the balance in the next Congress, bringing with them a more serious, adult commitment to responsible, restrained government.
Then there's retail politicking. Our phone interview gave us a taste of our candidate's personal warmth and humor. Commercial fishermen in a coffee shop in "The Whaling City" of New Bedford — where unemployment is over 15% — opened up to Sean. They were onto Barney Frank's role in facilitating the financial meltdown. "What about Fannie Mae?" they wanted to know. We don't know how much retail politicking in distressed blue-collar towns Frank's been doing of late, but his pollsters must have picked up the scent. Today's WSJ explains in "Barney to Fannie: Drop Dead:
Barney Frank has been all over the airwaves this week with a clear and — we never thought we'd say this — perfectly sound message about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: "They should be abolished."
Well, praise be. Two years ago next month, then Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson put the two government-sponsored mortgage-finance giants into conservatorship, and Congressman Frank declared himself pleased that there was a good chance, according to government bean-counters, that the rescue wouldn't cost taxpayers a dime.
To his supporters, Barney Frank's shamelessness may be one of his most endearing qualities. Talking about the failed "stimulus" bill the other day, he confided to a reporter on the record "we're supposed to call it the 'recovery bill,' not 'stimulus.' That's what focus groups tell us." You're out of touch, and you don't speak for the rest of us, Barney. Sean Bielat is listening with his own ears.
More to come in written responses, including Sean Bielat 's strategy to raise the funds necessary to be competitive with an opponent some would say is "too big to fail." And don't miss the two Seans on Hannity next Monday night!
Update: Too much fun: Barney Frank Freddie Fannie Flip video.