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Redrawn district complicates Keating’s bid for reelection

By Robert Preer
Globe Correspondent / January 29, 2012
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PLYMOUTH - US Representative William R. Keating says he couldn’t be happier with his new congressional district, which in last year’s redistricting lost Quincy and six surrounding towns, while gaining New Bedford and eight other south coast communities.

The freshman Democrat said he had been planning to move anyway from the home he had been renting in Quincy to a Bourne summer house that he and his wife bought 17 years ago. “It’s a case of a political decision following a life decision,’’ said the 59-year-old former Norfolk district attorney and state legislator.

But the reconfiguration of the Massachusetts 9th District has clearly complicated Keating’s reelection prospects.

With the addition of the south coast, the New Bedford-Fall River area is the district’s largest urban center. Bristol District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter, a Fall River Democrat, has already declared his intention to run in the Sept. 6 Democratic primary.

Another Democrat, former state senator Robert A. O’Leary of Barnstable, who finished 1,300 votes, or 2 percentage points, behind Keating in the 2010 Democratic race, is considering running again.

Slow population growth forced Massachusetts lawmakers to redraw the state’s congressional map, eliminating one of 10 districts. In the process, the Legislature created a minority-majority district centered in Boston and crafted the 9th District to give more clout to a growing region that for decades has been represented in Congress by politicians from Boston or nearby inner suburbs

The new 9th stretches from Marshfield to Provincetown and extends along the south coast to southeast sections of Fall River. Half of that city remains in the 4th District, which is represented by retiring Newton Democrat Barney Frank.

Keating is a longtime Sharon resident, who used his Sharon address during his 22 years as a state legislator and 12 years as Norfolk district attorney. He moved to Quincy two years ago after he launched his bid for Congress. In the latest redistricting, all of Norfolk County has been removed from the 9th District.

While Democrats have held the region’s congressional seats since the 1970s, the Republican Party does have pockets of strength in the area, and party leaders are hoping to mount a credible challenge in the district this year.

“Redistricting delivered some improvements to the district,’’ said state Republican Party spokesman Tim Buckley. “Gridlock in Washington and the lockstep we’ve been seeing in the current delegation from Massachusetts may be wearing on voters.’’

On Jan. 20, Christopher Sheldon, a Plymouth businessman and member of the Plymouth County Charter Study Commission, announced that he plans to seek the GOP nomination for the 9th District seat.

Other Republican candidates could come forward in the coming months. There are three Republican sheriffs, two Republican district attorneys, and more than a half-dozen GOP state legislators who reside in the 9th District.

Peter A. White, an independent who owns a motel in Mashpee, recently announced his bid for the 9th District seat. An activist for anti-war and environmental causes, as well as the Occupy movement, White has twice run unsuccessfully for Congress.

Former New Bedford mayor Scott W. Lang said he thinks the race for the seat is wide open. “It’s being treated as an open seat, and I think there will be candidates coming out for both the primary and the final election,’’ he said.

Lang, a Democrat, considered running for the seat himself but now says he is unlikely to be a candidate.

Keating is upbeat about his prospects and has been crisscrossing the district, meeting with elected officials, business people, and citizens. A member of the House Committee on Small Business, he said his focus today is bringing jobs to the region and promoting business. He said he has been working with the Obama Administration to support the tourism and fishing industries. He also co-sponsored bipartisan legislation proposing a series of tax breaks for small businesses.

“Economic growth in this country is going to come from small business,’’ Keating said.

Keating has picked up endorsements from several elected Democrats who represent communities new to the district. Backing Keating are state Representative Christopher M. Markey of Dartmouth, state Representative William M. Straus of Mattapoisett, and Senator Marc R. Pacheco of Taunton.

Keating starts the race with a big lead in fund-raising. He said that in the past year, he paid off his 2010 campaign debt and now has more than $300,000 in his campaign treasury. Sutter has about $13,000 in his district attorney campaign account, but that money cannot be used to run for a federal office.

“To mount a serious campaign for congressional office is going to cost a minimum of a million dollars and probably more,’’ said state Representative James M. Cantwell, a Marshfield Democrat who is backing Keating. “The more time goes by, the harder it is going to be for someone to raise that much money.’’

Sutter, who has not made a formal announcement of his candidacy, said he definitely plans to seek the office. He said he has been frustrated with the gridlock in Washington.

“I am positive that I can be a strong voice for change,’’ Sutter said. “This is an opportunity to be a part of the national debate when the issues facing the country are the most serious we have faced since the late 1960s.’’

Sutter now lives in a section of Fall River that is in the 4th District, but he said he plans to relocate to a home in the 9th District.

Keating said he officially changed his address from Quincy to Bourne at the start of 2012. He said he still owns a home in Sharon but is renting it out now.

Robert Preer can be reached at preer@comcast.net.

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