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PRIMARY MESSAGES | Joan Vennochi

Perry — next wave of the Brown revolution

By Joan Vennochi
September 16, 2010

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JEFF PERRY could be the next Scott Brown.

It’s a mistake to write him off as an over-caffeinated conservative whose election night bellows about “taking our country back’’ make him unelectable in Massachusetts. The old rules of political viability no longer apply.

Perry, a Republican lawmaker from Sandwich, hauled some heavy, well-documented baggage into the 10th congressional district primary fight. It didn’t matter. By 2-1, voters preferred Perry, a former police officer who stood by while his partner strip-searched a teenage girl, to Joe Malone, a former state treasurer who presided in ignorance as subordinates embezzled millions during his tenure.

Now Perry goes up against Democrat Bill Keating, the Norfolk district attorney. It’s another showdown between a Republican legislator and a Democratic prosecutor, and the last time that happened in Massachusetts, the prosecutor, Attorney General Martha Coakley, lost.

In his primary fight, Perry’s anti-immigrant, anti-government-spending, and anti-Obamacare rants overcame serious character issues. Those issues relate back to conflicting statements he has given over the years about a subordinate’s illegal strip searches of two teenage girls when Perry was a police sergeant in Wareham in the early 1990s.

Keating put it directly to Perry on primary night: “You stood five steps away as your partner sexually assaulted a young girl,’’ he said. “If you couldn’t see something so despicable right under your nose, how can we depend on you in Washington?’’

What Perry saw or didn’t see back as a Wareham police officer didn’t stop more than 30,000 voters from putting their trust in him as their next congressman. Nor did Perry’s creepy past stop Senator Brown or former governor Mitt Romney from supporting him. The Republican’s touting of academic credentials from a university that was nothing more than a post office box in Louisiana wasn’t a deal-breaker, either.

Perry’s support from GOP stars like Brown and Romney put this race in a different category than others in the country. The Republican establishment walked away from Christine O’Donnell, the Tea Party candidate who was backed by Sarah Palin and ended up as the GOP’s nominee for the Delaware Senate seat. Republican strategist Karl Rove said her victory meant the GOP could not win that seat. O’Donnell went right back at Rove, and the roar from her supporters caused the National Republican Senatorial Committee to reverse position and agree to support her general election campaign.

That may end the GOP’s hopes in Delaware. But Republicans view Massachusetts’ 10th district as one of the best opportunities in New England to pick up one of 39 seats needed to win control of the House of Representatives.

Democrats have a 2-1 registration advantage in the district, but Brown easily won it in last January’s special election. After Tuesday’s primary, Republican strategist Rob Gray put out statistics showing how much the Democratic share of the district vote has dropped — from 65 percent in 2002, the last competitive primary, to 52 percent. The Republican share increased from about 35 percent to about 47 percent. “All the energy is on the GOP side,’’ Gray said.

The GOP hopes to win the seat held by outgoing Representative William Delahunt, who said yesterday that he is hitting the campaign trail for Keating. However, the two men are not close. Keating did nothing to enhance their relationship when he publicly suggested last spring that Delahunt, his predecessor as DA, did not properly manage the 1986 investigation into the shooting of Seth Bishop by his sister, Amy. She is now accused of the murder of three colleagues at the University of Alabama Huntsville.

Especially when measured against Perry’s past, Keating has a strong record on issues relating to women and children’s rights, both as district attorney, and as a former legislator. He founded Norfolk Advocates for Children, a nonprofit child-advocacy center for those who have been sexually and physically abused. He has prosecuted sex crimes. His experience in the Legislature makes him more adept at political jousting than a career prosecutor like Coakley.

But it will take more than jousting. This is “Survivor,’’ pitting the next wave of the Scott Brown revolution against the Democratic establishment.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com.

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