Gloves off in 10th
Keating, Perry trade barbs, vow heated fight in homestretch of campaigns for US House
SANDWICH — Democrats came out swinging against Republican congressional nominee Jeffrey D. Perry yesterday, raising questions about his ethics and saying his politics are too extreme for the South Shore and Cape Cod district he is seeking to represent in Washington.
In the first day of the general election race between Perry and the Democratic nominee, Norfolk District Attorney William R. Keating, both candidates immediately made clear that they would wage tough, aggressive campaigns. Their contest, to represent the state’s 10th Congressional District, is the only congressional race without an incumbent in Massachusetts this year.
The accusations began just hours after the party primary polls closed Tuesday night, when Keating used part of his victory speech to attack Perry over his handling of a subordinate’s illegal strip searches of two teenage girls when Perry was a police sergeant in Wareham in the 1990s.
“You stood five steps away as your partner on the force sexually assaulted a young girl,’’ Keating said. “Mr. Perry, if you couldn’t see something so despicable happening right under your nose, how on earth can we depend on you to see what’s going on in Washington?’’
Perry, basking in what ended up being a landslide Republican primary victory over former state treasurer Joseph D. Malone and two other candidates, fired back in rounds of media interviews from his Sandwich headquarters, chastising Democrats for going negative and indicating he would not move to the center.
“It’s disappointing that my opponent would use his victory speech to start mudslinging at me,’’ Perry said. “I have won five elections with folks trying to throw mud at me. He’s going to do it at his own peril, and have the same result.’’
But Keating, at an appearance at Plymouth Town Hall, said he was justified in raising the issue.
“I said that last night and I’m not backing off today,’’ Keating said. “He’s got something to answer for and I hope he does.’’
Republicans believe the 10th District, which stretches from Quincy to Provincetown, is their best chance to pick up one of the state’s 10 congressional seats, all of which are currently held by Democrats.
Democrats enjoy a 2-to-1 advantage in voter registration — a modest edge by Massachusetts standards — in the district. But Republicans’ hopes were raised by the special US Senate election in January, when Republican Scott Brown clobbered the Democratic nominee, Attorney General Martha Coakley, by 20 points, his biggest margin in any of the state’s congressional districts.
On Tuesday, Perry, a four-term state representative from Sandwich, won a bruising GOP primary by running to the right of Malone, and by tapping support from self-identified Tea Party movement voters.
“I was, and am, a conservative,’’ Perry said yesterday. “I’m not shying away from that now that the primary’s over. Many of the issues that have motivated the Tea Party, I am in line with. They’re good Americans.’’
Perry’s campaign headquarters was humming as volunteers made calls to identify general election supporters. He said he was hoping to impress GOP leaders enough to attract national funding from party organizations seeking to help Republicans retake control of the US House.
“We’re going to have the strongest grass-roots campaign,’’ he said. “I’d be surprised if we’re not a priority.’’
Keating campaigned yesterday in Plymouth and Hyannis with the incumbent, US Representative William D. Delahunt, who is retiring. Delahunt said Perry is outside the mainstream of Republican politics.
“There is a Republican Party that does contribute to the political discourse in this country,’’ Delahunt said. “Then there’s a part that’s somewhere on the fringe.’’
Delahunt seemed to relish the attack dog role, saying Perry’s values were out of step with a district Delahunt has represented in Congress since 1997. He said Perry’s politics would give Keating the opportunity to appeal to what Delahunt called “traditional’’ Republicans.
“I admire the fact that he’s principled, it’s just that his principles and mine are different,’’ Delahunt said in Plymouth. “He’s embraced the Tea Party, not the traditional party.’’
But state Senator Robert O’Leary of Barnstable, who lost the Democratic primary to Keating by 2 percentage points after a race that grew testy when the two men clashed over Social Security and Afghanistan, yesterday acknowledged, while campaigning with Keating, that Democrats this year face the challenge of an energized Republican base.
“There’s a bit of a headwind out there, and we all need to recognize that,’’ he said.
Alan Wirzbicki can be reached at email@example.com.