By Adam Reilly
June 21, 2012
BOSTON — As longtime Democratic incumbent Barney Frank prepares to retire from his 4th Congressional District seat, the favorite to replace him is likely Democratic nominee Joe Kennedy III. For a Republican to have a chance against Kennedy, they’ll need to ignite GOP passions the way Scott Brown did before winning election to the Senate in 2010. But mudslinging between the top two GOP contenders could make that unlikely.
Two years ago, Republican Sean Bielat mounted an impressive challenge to Frank. Now he’s running again — and trying to fight off fellow Republican Elizabeth Childs, who served as Mitt Romney’s commissioner of mental health.
To hear Bielat tell it, though, Childs doesn’t really belong in the GOP. As he told New England Cable News earlier this month: “You know, I don’t know to what extent a lot of people would consider her a Republican.“
She says operative, he says intern
That’s because Childs left the GOP in the 1980s and voted in the state’s Democratic primary just 2 years ago. But Bielat’s attacks raised Childs’ hackles — because Bielat is also a former Democrat. The day after Bielat put out a press release casting Childs as a closet Democrat, Childs fired back with a release of her own highlighting Bielat’s work as an “operative” for the Clinton-Gore campaign.
According to Bielat, though, that characterization is a bit overblown.
“I think that if, while I was involved in interning for the ’96 Clinton-Gore campaign, someone had told me I was an ‘operative,’ I would have been extremely flattered,” he told WGBH. “I was a junior in college, the campaign headquarters was a little ways down the street from Georgetown and I interned there 10 hours a week.”
“The whole thing’s goofy”
Bielat did admit that, after graduating from Georgetown University, he did opposition research for Democratic politicians. But he said that in contrast to Childs, his dalliances with the Democratic Party were youthful indiscretions.
“It’s a false equivalency to say, ‘16 years ago, Sean did some stuff when he was, you know, 22, 23 years old — and 11 months ago I did something when I was 50,’” he argued. “It’s not exactly parallel. So it’s goofy. The whole thing’s goofy.
Childs claimed that explanation didn’t hold up.
“Well, he’s only a little bit beyond when he was a Democrat,” she said of Bielat. “He was a Democrat up until he moved to Brookline to run against Barney Frank, and worked — worked! — on Democratic campaigns, was steeped in that his whole life as a Democrat.”
Worried about abortion, but more worried about debt
Asked about her switch from the Republicans to the Democrats and back again, Childs said she left the GOP when the party became increasingly strident on abortion. Then, last year, she returned to the Republican fold after concluding that Democrats weren’t serious about addressing the national debt.
“The fiscal issues I decided were so critical that as important as the choice issue is to me, if our children don’t have freedoms because we as a country are broke, then frankly, we may have won a battle but lost the war,” Childs said. “And I wasn’t willing to do that.”
The sniping between Bielat and Childs makes for good political theater. But it could leave the party with a nominee who’s incapable of exciting the Republican base. One beneficiary of this bickering could be David Steinhof, a Fall River dentist who’s also seeking the Republican nomination and calls himself the “conservative choice” for 4th District voters. There’s just one problem: he used to be a Democrat, too.