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In Special Congressional Election, A Big Edge For The Democrat

WATERTOWN, Mass. — Congressional candidate Frank Addivinola strolls into Watertown’s town hall, where a small crew from the local cable access station awaited.

Host Bob Kaprielian sits down with the candidate behind a large wooden table. But he’s got an important question before they get started.

“Well, one thing I want to be sure is I get the pronunciation of your last name,” he says. “Addvindola? Avvinola.”

Such is life for a Republican running in the state’s 5th Congressional District, which bends through the suburbs north and west of Boston.

The district is heavily Democratic; it voted for President Obama by more than 30 points last year.

And state Sen. Katherine Clark, the Democrat in the special election to replace U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, is considered the heavy favorite.

The vote, set for Tuesday, comes two months after Clark and Addivinola emerged from their party primaries.

And in this liberal district, the seven-way Democratic primary was the most closely watched clash in the district’s first open-seat race in a generation.

Clark hopped into the contest early, raised a pile of cash and emphasized women’s issues.

And like many of her Democratic rivals, she used the Republican Party as a foil.

“Today, the Republicans in Congress oppose equal pay for equal work, deny birth control,” she said in one TV spot. “These extremists don’t believe women’s issues are family issues. But you and I know they are.”

The Democratic and Republican primaries were overshadowed by the Boston mayoral race.

And the final election is even more invisible.

That’s mostly due to the lopsided feel of the race. Clark has raised $1.1 million to date, Addivinola $38,000.

But it also owes something to Clark’s clipped campaign schedule.

If Addivinola is showing up for every cable access interview, Clark has been more selective.

When she turned down an invitation to appear at a Fox 25 televised debate, the station showed an empty chair where she would have sat.

Addivinola, who carries a list of the events Clark has skipped in his suit pocket, has made an issue of the Democrat’s low-profile approach. He calls it “arrogant.” But Clark has brushed off the critique.

“I know that there was a debate where there was an empty chair on Fox News,” she says. “But I think I was in the chair I was supposed to be in, which is being in the state Senate and voting that night — we were voting on issues around the minimum wage.”

And the candidates, she notes, are scheduled to debate on New England Cable News Friday.

Addivinola, 53, grew up in Malden, in the house his grandparents built when they immigrated from Italy.

He was studying to be a plumber in trade school when he had an epiphany about the importance of a more bookish education.

He wound up with a biology degree from Williams College and worked as a researcher at the National Institutes of Health under Nobel Prize Winner Marshall Nirenberg.

He got a law degree late in life and works as a lawyer now. He married a few years ago. Addivinola lives in Boston, which is outside the congressional district. But he says his Malden roots would make him an able representative.

His public persona is a mix of blunt and humorous. Asked about his previous forays into public life, he deadpans that he was homeroom representative in the eighth grade.

Addivinola has run, unsuccessfully, for state Senate and Congress in the past. This fall, he ran for Boston City Council even as he sought the 5th Congressional District seat.

His positions — he’s pro-life, opposed to gay marriage and a strict defender of the right to bear arms — are down-the-line conservative. He calls President Obama’s health care law a “disaster.”

Clark, 50, is a different personality. Married with three sons, she smiles broadly and leans in close when she talks.

On a recent Saturday, she stopped by the Malden Parade of Holiday Traditions, where she greeted a gingerbread woman, spoke to an imam and chatted with more than a few children.

Raised in Connecticut, Clark served on the Melrose School Committee and was general counsel for the Massachusetts Office of Child Care Services.

In the state Senate, she pushed for a commission on childhood literacy and a bill extending restraining order protection in domestic violence cases to victims’ pets.

Gov. Deval Patrick signed the measure at an animal shelter, a kitten strolling across the desk as he put pen to paper.

Clark insists she can work with Republicans in a hyper-partisan Congress — focusing on issues of common concern like the economy and climate change.

She says she can team, for instance, with conservative representatives from the “wind corridor” in the Midwest who are supportive of wind energy.

Green technology, she notes, is a growth industry in greater Boston as well.

If Clark wins Tuesday, she’ll be the third woman in the state’s 11-person congressional delegation.

Supporters say that’s an important step toward gender parity in a state that ranks near the middle of the pack when it comes to electing women.

Of course, as the candidates in this race know, Massachusetts is even stingier when it comes to electing Republicans.

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