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Campaign 2010 | The race for Congress

Keating and Perry turn up the heat

Locked in tight race, candidates reach out to undecided voters

By Alan Wirzbicki and Travis Andersen
Globe Staff / October 31, 2010

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QUINCY — Hoping to provide an 11th-hour boost in one of the state’s most closely contested House elections in years, Vice President Joe Biden hit the stump yesterday for Democratic congressional hopeful William R. Keating, urging the party’s voters to turn out in an election he said was “as serious as a heart attack.’’

Standing next to Keating, the Norfolk district attorney facing Republican Jeffrey Perry in the 10th Congressional District, Biden devoted much of his speech to attacking the GOP for the country’s economic woes, warning that giving them back control of Congress would only derail the fragile recovery.

But he also seemed intent on cheering up his fellow Democrats, whom polls suggest are despondent as an election looms in which the party is widely expected to lose seats.

“The reports of the death of the Democratic Party are premature,’’ Biden said in a half-hour speech in Quincy. “We are going to maintain the Senate, we are going to have a majority in the House, and Bill Keating is going to be part of that majority.’’

Keating and Perry, a state representative from Sandwich, are locked in a tight race, and each appealed to undecided voters yesterday. While Keating was with Biden, Perry barnstormed the district with stops in Orleans, Plymouth, Scituate, Hyannis, and Weymouth.

The race to represent a conservative-leaning district that gave Scott Brown his biggest margin of victory has evolved into one of the most closely watched nationally. The two men are vying to replace William D. Delahunt, a Quincy Democrat who is retiring after 14 years in office and was one of the other featured speakers at Keating’s rally yesterday, which drew about 450 people.

Senator John Kerry and Victoria Reggie Kennedy, the widow of Edward M. Kennedy, also spoke from the podium, which had been decorated in an autumnal theme with bales of hay, pumpkins, and other assorted gourds. The speakers were escorted into the event by the Barnstable High School marching band. Former “American Idol’’ contestant Siobhan Magnus sang the national anthem and returned for a rendition of “America the Beautiful.’’

Biden took aim at Perry and blasted the Republicans’ record on spending.

“How can Perry or the Republican Party talk with a straight face about fiscal responsibility? Give me a break,’’ he said, citing deficits left by Republican presidents. “Next time a Republican talks to you about fiscal responsibility, tell them, ‘Forgive me if I laugh in your face.’ ’’

In a press conference later in the day, Perry hit back at Biden, saying the vice president was trying to distract voters from the Democratic Party’s record since President Obama and Biden took office.

“They don’t want to talk about the last two years when they were in charge,’’ Perry said afterward, adding that the Democratic leadership failed to pass a budget before the congressional recess, has increased deficit spending, and has “done nothing’’ on illegal immigration.

“Let me be clear, I’m not saying Republicans have always gotten it right,’’ he said, noting that GOP officeholders and candidates are now focused on curbing spending.

Earlier in the day, Perry joined about 60 volunteers holding signs and waving to motorists at a rotary near the Barnstable Municipal Airport in Hyannis. The raucous crowd broke out into repeated cheers of “Perry! Perry!’’ and whooped as drivers beeped and waved.

Cary Avila, 52, a neighbor of Perry’s, said she was supporting him because of his integrity and fiscal conservatism.

Without any prompting, Avila brought up the strip-searches of two teenage girls by a police officer under Perry’s command when Perry was a sergeant on the Wareham police force in the early 1990s. The case returned to the spotlight earlier this month when one of the victims, Lisa Allen, broke years of silence to issue a public statement saying Perry did nothing to stop the officer, who later went to prison. Perry has maintained that he did not witness the assault, and Avila said she believed him.

“I don’t believe in my heart and my soul that Jeff would see something like that and not immediately arrest the police officer,’’ she said.

Perry also brushed off comments made by independent gubernatorial candidate Timothy P. Cahill on WBUR, in which the treasurer said he would not vote for him because of Allen’s ordeal. “I’m not voting for Cahill, either,’’ Perry said.

Perry and his wife, Lisa, were greeted like rock stars during a later stop at a rotary in Scituate, where they walked hand in hand greeting more than 100 supporters who held signs.

Two volunteers, Jennifer White, 30, and Andrea Killion, 42, held a large sign with photos of Keating, Biden, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that read, “These three haunting Capitol Hill? That’s a scary thought.’’

Speakers and rally-goers at Keating’s Quincy appearance embraced the Halloween theme, too.

“Everything is different with Republicans,’’ Kerry said. “Halloween is different. They only give the candy to the richest 2 percent.’’

George Sommers, 54, a children’s book author from Quincy, arrived at the rally dressed in a black Halloween hat with golden outlines of witches.

“I would just really be mortified to have Jeff Perry representing me in Congress, considering the abuse of power he demonstrated on the Wareham police,’’ Sommers said.

The Democrats played an eclectic mix of music, including Florence and the Machine, AC/DC, and John Philip Sousa. Later, a reporter spotted an empty CD case titled “DNC Ropeline Music’’ resting near the stereo, which apparently consisted of repeated encores of U2’s “Beautiful Day.’’ The song, a favorite of the Obama campaign in 2008 election, was played both before Biden spoke and again afterward as he and Kerry mingled with supporters.

Not every speaker seemed to share Biden’s upbeat predictions for Tuesday. The rally opened with a prayer offered by a police chaplain, who thanked God for the ability to vote for the Democrat of his choice, but also asked for divine support as he braced for the days ahead.

“You know what I mean, Lord,’’ he said.

Alan Wirzbicki can be reached at awirzbicki@globe.com; Travis Andersen at TAndersen@globe.com.