A newcomer, Republican Sean Bielat, is waging a strong campaign against Rep. Barney Frank. Frank is taking the challenge seriously enough that he brought former President Clinton in.
In a roundabout way, Clinton acknowledged that Frank has a tougher race this year than he's had in a long time. Clinton told the crowd in the Taunton High School gym Sunday that if Republicans succeed in making the election about how Americans feel about the economy, Democrats are in trouble. So, the former president said, Democrats need to ask voters two questions:
"And the only thing that really matters, is what are we going to do now? What are we going to do now and who's more likely to do it? If those were the questions the voters in this Congressional district asked, Barney Frank would get 85 percent of the vote and we wouldn't be here," Clinton said.
"We definitely need somebody young and new, and new life, new experience to replace Barney."Connie Reposo, a longtime Frank supporter
But Clinton was there, and voters in the 4th Congressional District are asking about Sean Bielat, the fair-skinned, trim 35-year-old running against Frank. Bielat is a Marine Reservist who says his priorities are in line with the Tea Party principles of smaller government. Last week, Bielat told a house party in Newton what he would do if elected.
"First is the economic recovery, and I think we do that by setting a stable regulatory environment so that businesses can make longer-term investment decisions because they know what regulation is coming, what they need to prepare for, and second is immediate tax relief in the form of lower withholding from paychecks," Bielat said.
Next, Bielat, a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton Business School, wants to reform Social Security and Medicare.
"If we don't, this country is going to look like Greece in a generation. We're going to be broke," he said.
Bielat is part of a rebel movement of young Republicans who want to throw out not just the Democrats, but also their own party leadership. He says the congressional Republican he thinks is doing the best job is Rep. Paul Ryan, of Wisconsin. Like Ryan, Bielat believes the party lost its way by spending big in the Bush years.
"It's also a sign of the times that we don't have the leadership that people are looking to at the top levels," Bielat said, "but it's good that people are latching onto his message about the budget, about the economy, about what government ought to be doing."
The small crowd of Bielat supporters at the Newton house party said they oppose Frank because they believe he contributed to the housing crisis by pushing for more loans to poor people, because he wants to cut the defense budget and because they believe he's not sufficiently supportive of Israel. All of them describe themselves as people who would support "anybody but Barney," as they put it.
At the New Bedford Working Waterfront Festival, most people who came up to Bielat also were longtime opponents of Frank. But clearly, Bielat needs to win over more people if he wants to have a chance of defeating Frank. He needs people like Connie Reposo, a longtime Frank supporter.
"We definitely need somebody young and new, and new life, new experience to replace Barney," Reposo said. "He's a fantastic person. He's done well for the people, but it's time for a change."
Asked what makes her feel like it's time for something different, Reposo replied, "28 years."
Frank has actually been in Congress for 29 years. But Bielat said the fact that Frank had to call in Clinton is a sign of something new: desperation.
"You can't listen to the fact that he just invited Bill Clinton in to campaign for him and not think that there's some connection to the fact that he finally has a competitive election coming up," Bielat said.
Still, the 650 people who showed up at the rally in Taunton to hear Clinton were the biggest crowd in the race so far, a sign that Frank commands loyal support in the district he's served since 1981.
Clarification: WBUR reporter Fred Thys counted 650 people at the Clinton event in Taunton. The Frank campaign says it put out 2,200 chairs and had to add another 75. The Taunton mayor's office backs the Frank campaign's assertion.
This program aired on September 27, 2010.