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4th District race hits fever pitch

Clinton lends star power to Frank; Bielat stages rally in Taunton

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By Milton J. Valencia and Matt Byrne
Globe Staff | Globe Correspondent / September 27, 2010

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TAUNTON — For a congressional reelection campaign, it was quite the festive event.

US Representative Barney Frank, facing his most serious opponent in more than two decades, wooed the people of Taunton and the Fourth Congressional District yesterday with a rally at Taunton High School that included promise of a better future — and a visit from Bill Clinton.

After more than an hour’s wait, time that was filled with songs by the high school choir and jazz band, the estimated 2,500 in attendance welcomed the former president with a boisterous round of applause, as the sounds of Fleetwood Mac boomed in the background: “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow.’’

“I’m glad to be here because Barney Frank has been my friend,’’ Clinton told the welcoming crowd. “I’m glad to be here because he’s been a faithful representative to you.’’

The show of support, with hundreds of Frank signs waving in the air, was a well-timed boost for a congressman who has served three decades in office and is now facing an opponent campaigning on voter anger and a bleeding economy.

Sean Bielat, Frank’s Republican opponent, welcomed the challenge yesterday afternoon with his own rally at Taunton Green, the city’s historic grounds of civic engagement, once used as a training ground for militias in the American Revolution.

With chants of, “Go Sean, Go,’’ and “Retire Barney’’ signs waving in the air, about 200 people gathered at the counter-rally to the Clinton appearance.

“Two days ago, Frank said the economy is poised for recovery,’’ said Bielat, 35, of Brookline, a Marine serving in the Reserves. “Going around the district, I haven’t found it.’’

He denounced the “arrogance’’ of incumbents who have forgotten their constituents.

“That’s the problem, the disconnect between the people in office and the people in Taunton, New Bedford, Fall River, and all the other cities and towns,’’ Bielat said.

“We have gone so sharply in the wrong direction that people are motivated to act. It’s not about Republicans, it’s not about Democrats or independents. The people who need to be in power are right here.’’

Clinton’s stop in Taunton yesterday was part of a tour through New England in support of Democratic candidates as their campaigns heat up before the Nov. 2 elections.

After leaving the high school, his caravan brought him to Boston Park Plaza Hotel, where he joined Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston in a show of support for Steve Grossman, a Newton businessman and Democratic candidate for state treasurer. Grossman faces a strong challenge in Republican Karyn E. Polito, a state representative from Shrewsbury.

About 300 people gathered inside Pairings, a restaurant at the hotel, to hear Clinton stump for Grossman, who served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee during Clinton’s administration.

The standing-room only crowd, which had been waiting for hours, clapped and cheered when Clinton took the podium.

“The good thing about not running for [any elected office] is you can say whatever you want,’’ said Clinton, garnering chuckles from the audience.

In his speech, Clinton said the race for state treasurer is tied to broader issues that affect the national economy, and he highlighted Grossman’s economic plans, which include creating more green jobs.

Clinton traveled to Maine last night for a rally in support of Libby Mitchell, the Democratic candidate for governor in a five-way race.

Frank welcomed the president’s Taunton stop and responded to Bielat’s accusations that his campaign called on the publicity power of the presidential visit because it was nervous about the congressman’s prospects.

Frank said that since he’s assumed the powerful role of chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, his record has been under nationwide attack, and the president’s show of support was a way to spotlight his work on reforming financial regulations and trying to boost the economy.

“It’s a campaign, a reelection campaign,’’ Frank said. “I think it’d be a mistake not to set the record straight.’’

Clinton said that Frank, with his years of experience, was the better candidate.

“I want people to channel their anger into a constructive force: What are we going to do now, and who is going to do it?’’ he said. “We’ve got to restore the American Dream. No one in the House has done more for that American Dream than Barney Frank.’’

The message resonated with many supporters in the crowd, as they cheered the president’s every word.

“Every time I hear something about Barney Frank, it’s about something good he’s doing,’’ said Karen White, 48, of Taunton, who brought her mother, Vera Beacienski, 83, to hear the former president speak. “I don’t see any reason to not support him any further.’’

But the view was much different on the Taunton Green, where Terry Gouldrup, 43, was attending Bielat’s rally with her two daughters and husband.

Gouldrup, a Taunton native, said she decided to support Bielat after she lost her job teaching at St. Mary’s Elementary School in Taunton.

She has since taken a position at half her former salary at the same school.

“Times are tough,’’ Gouldrup said. “We’re late on our bills. I’m always one step behind, like I can never get ahead. [Barney Frank] is not listening. It’s just time. He’s been in too long.’’

Emily Sweeney of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Milton Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@globe.com

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