Dogfight in 10th
District features tough primary races as GOP aims for control of House
It’s getting ugly in the 10th Congressional District as Tuesday’s primary looms, with tough fights in both parties for the nomination in what is a Bay State rarity: a congressional race with national significance.
In the campaign’s closing days, a blizzard of campaign fliers, many of them negative, has been landing in mailboxes of voters in the serpentine district, which stretches from the Neponset River in Quincy to the tip of Cape Cod in Provincetown and the Islands. With Republicans hoping to take control of the House in November, the open seat is the GOP’s best chance in more than a decade for a pick-up in Massachusetts.
The Democratic duel is particularly nasty as Robert O’Leary, a state senator from Barnstable, and Norfolk District Attorney William Keating bicker over issues large and small — from the future of Social Security and the war in Afghanistan to what Keating will do with a six-figure state pension and two part-time teaching jobs O’Leary has on the side.
For the GOP, state Representative Jeffrey D. Perry is riding a wave of endorsements while former state treasurer Joseph D. Malone tries to tar him with his shifting statements about a subordinate’s illegal strip searches of two teenage girls when Perry was a police sergeant in Wareham in the early 1990s.
Two other Republicans are running — Cohasset accountant Raymond Kasperowicz and Hanover lawyer Robert Hayden, and the winners in the primary will face three independents in the November election to fill the seat of Democrat William D. Delahunt, who is retiring after seven terms.
Turnout and geography will be crucial. The district breaks down into three components — Quincy and Weymouth in the north, the Cape and Islands in the south, and a battleground in the middle consisting of 15 towns in Plymouth County, one of the more conservative areas of the state.
In his stunning upset in the special US Senate election last January, Republican Scott Brown won the state by 5 percentage points but the 10th District by 20 points. Democrats have a better than 2-to-1 registration advantage — less than the 3-to-1 statewide ratio — and independents, who may vote in either primary, make up almost 56 percent of the electorate.
On Tuesday, Quincy will be the epicenter for Democratic turnout, with contested primaries not only for Congress but also district attorney, state Senate, and one seat in the House.
“Quincy’s turnout will be huge because there are so many races and so many potentially good organizations that will be getting out the vote,’’ said political consultant Michael Shea, a Quincy native who worked on Delahunt’s campaigns.
In the Democratic race, O’Leary has deep strength in his Senate district but is not well-known on the South Shore. In the spring, Keating moved from Sharon, which is outside the district, to Quincy. Quincy and Weymouth are in Norfolk County, and as the DA for the past 12 years, Keating will have a big advantage there on Tuesday.
The Democratic contest has become increasingly acrimonious down the stretch, with the campaigns accusing each other of willful distortions on hot-button issues.
O’Leary is fuming over Keating’s repeated attacks on O’Leary for supporting raising the retirement age for Social Security as a way of guaranteeing the program’s long-term solvency. O’Leary’s position is more nuanced: no change for anyone approaching retirement, and raising the age is one of several options he would consider. Keating contends the problem does not need to be fixed any time soon.
Keating’s campaign, meanwhile, was incensed by an O’Leary mail piece that landed on Thursday saying that Keating “supports sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.’’
“That’s a lie, and he knows it,’’ said Steve Crawford, Keating’s spokesman. O’Leary’s campaign says that Keating’s support for President Obama’s plan to begin withdrawing troops starting next July means Keating supported the troop surge in Afghanistan. Keating, however, has often said he would have voted in July against the $37 billion in additional funding for the war.
O’Leary has called for an immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
On a more personal level, Keating has zinged O’Leary repeatedly for his part-time teaching jobs at Cape Cod Community College and the Mass. Maritime Academy, both state colleges.
O’Leary taught for 25 years before he went to the Senate, and a centerpiece of his candidacy is his key role in shaping a major overhaul of state education, which allowed the state to qualify for $250 million in federal “Race to the Top’’ funds.
An O’Leary mailer, meanwhile, knocks Keating for having “changed his position three times on whether he will collect his $110,000 lifetime pension while he collects a $174,000 salary as congressman.’’
Keating has said he would collect his pension and donate it to the Norfolk Advocates for Children, a nonprofit organization he helped found that serves abused children.
Delahunt said he will not endorse either Democrat but will campaign for the primary winner. He has privately said, however, that he intends to vote for O’Leary.
On the Republican side, Perry, a four-term legislator from Sandwich, dismisses Malone’s persistent attacks and said they aren’t working.
“There’s no end to what he’s doing; it’s guilt by association,’’ Perry said, referring to Malone mailings that mention the strip-search scandal that resulted in the patrolman under his command pleading guilty to indecent assault and other charges. “It’s a question of character,’’ one of the brochures says, also mentioning a college degree Perry received from a diploma mill.
“[Malone] is behind in the polls, behind in money, and has no contemporary Massachusetts endorsements, and no grass-roots support,’’ said Perry, who has the support of most of the state’s Republican leadership, many local activists, and some key conservative groups, as well as endorsements from former governor Mitt Romney, who hosted a fund-raiser for him Friday night, and Brown, who has recorded an automated call on his behalf.
Malone, now a business consultant who lives in Scituate, was a political maverick on Beacon Hill. He said he believes questions about Perry’s past will draw independent voters to him on Tuesday. But Malone, who is backed by former governors William Weld and Paul Cellucci, also has some baggage, including the theft of more than $9 million by some of his key aides when he was treasurer.
Perry, however, has refrained from targeting Malone’s past.
“This could be one of the 39 seats the Republicans need to take back control of the House,’’ Perry said.
“If it’s not me [who wins Tuesday], I don’t want to hurt the party’s chances.’’
Brian C. Mooney can be reached at email@example.com.