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Rep. Keating Faces A Primary Challenger03:52
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In the new 9th Congressional District, a sitting congressman faces a challenge in next month's primary. Much of the district is currently represented by Rep. William Keating.

Rep. William Keating, left, and Sam Sutter (Campaign photos)
Rep. William Keating, left, and Sam Sutter (Campaign photos)

In a sense, the Democratic primary is a battle of the district attorneys. Keating was Norfolk County DA before he was elected to Congress two years ago.

"So I hope to continue with the work I've been doing, not just in Washington, but to bring that to the local level," Keating said recently on WATD-FM, on the South Shore.

Keating fights as the incumbent, but in a newly drawn district. It includes much of the South Shore, Cape Cod and the Islands, and the South Coast. When the Legislature formed the district, no sitting member of Congress lived in it. Keating lived in Quincy, which had been put in Rep. Stephen Lynch's district. Instead of running against Lynch, Keating moved to his summer home in Bourne to defend his seat.

In the primary, he faces Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter.

"I want to be a part of bringing a spirit of change to Washington," Sutter said.

At a recent lunch in Westport, Sutter blamed partisanship for Congress' inability to accomplish anything. And he blamed money. He won't accept money from political action committees. It puts him at a disadvantage; Keating has out-raised Sutter. Keating brought in close to $800,000 through June, most of that from PACs. Sutter, relying on individual contributions, has only been able to raise a little under $200,000.

As DA, Sutter has moved aggressively to keep people caught with illegal firearms behind bars for 90 days.

"I knew we needed to change the dynamic, the atmosphere, here in the cities of Bristol County," Sutter said.

Sutter's base is in those cities. Because they are the only two cities in the district, it is possible that enough people will turn out there on Primary Day to offset any advantage Keating might have in the parts of the district he's been representing: the South Shore, Cape Cod and the Islands. But the former chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, Phil Johnston, who is backing Keating, says this is the congressman's race to lose.

"He of course has a district which is oh, maybe 40 percent new, but it's a district where he's been working pretty hard now for the past six or eight months," Johnston said.

"He's gotten a lot of support in New Bedford and Fall River," he added. "[Retiring Rep.] Barney Frank, who's very popular in New Bedford, has publicly endorsed him. Bill has a very, very strong base of support on Cape Cod and the South Shore. In those two areas, which comprise about two-thirds of the district, I don't think anyone ever heard of Sutter."

On the other hand, Sutter has earned the backing of New Bedford's popular former mayor, Scott Lang.

"Sam Sutter, having served as DA now for the past six years in Bristol County, certainly is well known in the South Coast region of the congressional district," Lang said.

One of the issues in the race is Cape Wind. The two debated the project on New England Cable News last month. Sutter had opposed locating the offshore wind turbines in Nantucket Sound. Keating supported putting the project where it is.

"And it's very important for New Bedford, so if you're against it as a site, then you're against Cape Wind, and that means that..." Keating said, before Sutter interjected.

"It's a non-issue," Sutter said. "It's a fait accompli. Cape Wind is happening. I don't think it was the right location for it. But we need to move forward."

There are no contested statewide races in the primary. And Primary Day has been moved to a Thursday. So turnout is expected to be low, which means that a few thousand votes either way could tip the outcome.

This program aired on August 27, 2012.

Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reports on politics and higher education for WBUR.

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