NEEDHAM — As US Representative Stephen F. Lynch basked in the glow of former president Bill Clinton’s endorsement last Thursday at a union hall in South Boston, the underdog who is trying to unseat him in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary did what he has done with regularity during the dog days of July.
During a swing through Needham, Mac D’Alessandro was introducing himself to as many voters as possible, as part of his campaign to visit 21 communities in the Ninth Congressional District in 21 days.
D’Alessandro, who describes himself as progressive on issues, professed to be unfazed by the Clinton-generated buzz and the hurrahs for the incumbent, who comes from the lunch-bucket wing of the party.
“It doesn’t come as a surprise when incumbents are shown the love of the Democratic establishment, the party establishment,’’ he said during a break in his meet-and-greet at a busy drop-in center for senior citizens. “I’m focused on hearing people’s concerns, deep concerns, for example, about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,’’ he said, pointing out that Lynch was the only member of the state’s all-Democratic House delegation last week to support President Obama’s request for $37 billion to fund the military effort in Afghanistan.
With 42 days until the primary, D’Alessandro’s candidacy has a long way to go if he has any chance of defeating Lynch, the most conservative of 10 House members from the Bay State.
But D’Alessandro is banking on anti-incumbent sentiment in a political environment made volatile by voter anxiety and anger.
“If it were any other year, it might be impossible to pull this off,’’ D’Alessandro said during an earlier stop in Randolph. “But there’s such frustration now with the way things are going in Washington.’’
D’Alessandro, a Milton resident who is on leave from his job as regional political director of the Service Employees International Union, jumped into the race late, largely in response to Lynch’s vote in late March against the national health care overhaul. Little known outside the labor and liberal activist communities before becoming a candidate, the challenger has struggled to raise funds. He started July with $71,672 in his campaign account, compared to Lynch’s $1.3 million, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
The Lynch event at the Ironworkers Local 7 hall on Thursday brought in an estimated $150,000 more, much of it from the political action committees of about two-dozen labor organizations that have endorsed Lynch, a former president of Local 7. Last week, Lynch’s campaign began airing a radio ad, the first phase of its media campaign.
Lynch, who won a 2001 special election to succeed the late J. Joseph Moakley, is seeking a fifth full term. He said he is taking nothing for granted this year.
“With the job situation, the economy, a couple of wars, the health care debate, you’ve got a lot of people who are just very, very engaged,’’ he said last week. “And a lot of them are mad, which is obvious from the results of some of these primaries around the country.’’
Lynch, who has been to Iraq 12 times and Afghanistan and Pakistan a total of 10 times, vigorously defended his vote on the funding, as well his support for the war in Iraq. D’Alessandro has been slamming him for his vote in 2002 that authorized the use of military force. Lynch said he supports Obama’s plans to withdraw from both countries in a way that maintains stability.
D’Alessandro expects to be heavily outspent in the next six weeks and said he is focusing on organizing “a pretty robust’’ field and get-out-the-vote operation while reaching out to the liberal blogosphere, both local and national, trying to galvanize activists and contributors.
Two Republicans and an independent are also running in the district, which includes about a third of Boston’s registered voters, centered in the city’s mostly white and more conservative neighborhoods, in Brockton, and in 19 towns south and west of Boston. South Boston natives have occupied the seat for nearly half a century, and Boston accounts for a little over one quarter of the registered voters in the heavily Democratic, politically moderate district. Democrats represent 41 percent of the district’s registered voters, Republicans 11 percent, and independents about 48 percent.
D’Alessandro’s politics reflect the left wing of the party and he is unabashed in his views, describing himself as “a moonbat with an edge,’’ borrowing the disparagement used by some conservative commentators to describe Democrats of D’Allesandro’s ilk.
A Chicago native, MacDonald King D’Alessandro, 40, describes himself and his ethnicity as “your typical Scotch, Irish, English, African-American, Italian, Indian.’’ Married and the father of two, he graduated from Rutgers University in New Jersey and Boston College Law School, according to his campaign website.
The first-time candidate says he is “running against the unfettered corporate influence in Washington’’ and criticizes Lynch for taking money from corporate interests.
D’Alessandro flatly denied that his candidacy is SEIU payback for Lynch’s vote against the health care overhaul and refusal to meet with union officials during the long deliberations that preceded the March vote.
“SEIU did not ask me to get into the race,’’ D’Alessandro said. “Steve Lynch did by voting for the Iraq war and for its continued funding, and by voting for the Patriot Act and its reauthorization and by being against a woman’s right to choose and against the health care legislation.’’
“Mac decided totally on his own,’’ said Harris Gruman, executive director of SEIU’s state council, which has about 65,000 members and has endorsed D’Alessandro.
The international union was among the leading advocates for a more sweeping health care bill and joined other unions in asking Massachusetts House members to pledge in advance to support several key elements, including the so-called public option, a government-run plan to compete with private insurance companies. Every Massachusetts House member made the pledge except Lynch, who said the House bill had not been finalized.
In a clear snub, Lynch was not allowed by labor leaders to speak at the Labor Day breakfast in Boston last year and was booed off the stage at a rally organized by another activist group in support of a public option.
Two months later, Lynch voted for a House bill that included a watered-down version of a public option. When a much narrower overhaul came before the House in March — with no public option and a tax on high-cost health insurance policies — Lynch voted against it, saying it would not drive down health costs. But about an hour later, Lynch voted in favor of a second bill that made fixes to the main legislation, including one that reduced the tax on costly health plans. He was one of only two Democrats to vote against the main bill but in favor of the fixes.
Lynch was roundly criticized in some quarters for trying to have it both ways with a series of confusing votes on a very complex issue.
He bristles at the criticism and said labor leaders were wrong to accept the weaker version, which was calibrated to win narrow approval in the Senate.
Moreover, Lynch argued that colleagues who signed the pledge actually broke it by voting for a bill that did not include the key points and that, for the first time, will tax high-cost health plans, starting in 2018.
“They were wrong, they’re still wrong, and we’re going to spend a lot of time trying to fix the mistakes in this bill,’’ Lynch said last week.
As for his vote in favor of the second bill, which fixed parts of the main bill: “Once it had passed, you might as well make it better, right?’’