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Rep. Stephen Lynch got an inkling more than a year ago that this re-election campaign would be tough. That's when labor unions defected from the former South Boston ironworker as he weighed a campaign in the special election to replace the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
Today, Lynch is simply running to keep his seat. But he's facing a challenge from a major union's former political director in next week's Democratic primary. Like the rank-and-file, Mac D'Alessandro is irked by Lynch for, among other things, not supporting the Obama's administration's health care overhaul.
If Lynch survives D'Alessandro's challenge, he'll have a general election campaign against a Republican in a district that has supported conservatives and voted overwhelmingly for Republican Scott Brown in the Senate election that Lynch decided to forgo. The Republican candidates are photojournalist Keith Lepor of Boston and computer technician Vernon Harrison of Braintree.
While Lynch holds sizable polling and fundraising leads, the competition is an expression of the anti-incumbent, anti-Washington sentiment coursing through the nation. In the past year, it has affected governor's races and special elections like the one for Kennedy's seat, and it will undoubtedly play a role in November's midterm elections if Republicans realize projected gains in the House and Senate.
"I think a lot of it is tied to the unemployment rate," Lynch said in an interview. While the number fluctuates around 10 percent nationally and 9 percent in Massachusetts, the congressman said it's more realistically 14 percent in his district, factoring in people who have simply given up looking for work.
"They want Washington to straighten out that problem, so that's where a lot of this anger is coming from. And from what I can see, it's hitting incumbent Republicans as well as incumbent Democrats," said Lynch.
Lynch, 55, said he is progressive enough for his district, which runs from his Boston stronghold west to Needham and southeast to Bridgewater, but also conservative enough for his Irish-Catholic neighborhood, which has embraced his opposition to abortion.
"I've got people from the far right saying that I'm to the left of Gandhi, and I've got people from the left calling me a conservative, so that's just political rhetoric," he said.
D'Alessandro says Lynch is feeling the heat because, like many Washington incumbents, he isn't listening to his constituents, many of whom are centrist Democrats. In particular, he criticizes Lynch for voting in favor of the Iraq war and funding for the fighting there and in Afghanistan, while voting against the health care overhaul.
"Washington seems to work a lot better if you're a big oil company or a Wall Street bank than it does if you're a family just scraping by," said D'Alessandro, a 40-year-old former regional political director for the Service Employees International Union.
While Lynch defends his health care vote, saying the final legislation did not include elements in a prior version he supported, D'Alessandro said that's doubletalk.
"When it mattered most - there was this one bill - Steve Lynch stood with those insurance companies, who also opposed the same bill he voted against. And that was a vote against the people in the 9th Congressional District," the challenger said.
As for the wars, D'Alessandro added: "The no vote on funding is not a vote to deprive troops of the tools they need to be safe; it is a vote to ask the Pentagon and the administration what our objectives are. ... Every time we say yes to additional funding, we're prolonging their time in harm's way - without answers."
D'Alessandro is a graduate of Rutgers University and Boston College Law School. An African-American, he was adopted by white parents but raised in a black neighborhood in Chicago. He worked with his parents to help elect the city's first black mayor, Harold Washington.
D'Alessandro said that, if elected to Congress, he will make implementing the health care law one of his top priorities. He will also work on legislation to counteract a Supreme Court decision allowing corporations to join unions in spending unlimited sums on political campaigns.
He also faces additional federal stimulus programs to promote economic recovery.
Despite concern a second bill could add to the national debt, D'Alessandro said: "I understand the debt concerns, but we've got to deal with the here and now."
This program aired on September 10, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.
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