NEWTON, Mass. — Rep. Barney Frank faced his Republican challenger Monday night in their only televised debate. It was the first chance for the challenger, Marine reservist Sean Bielat, to show he could survive going on television against the congressman famous for his way with words.
Democrat Frank came armed with his usual wit. For instance, he dismissed New York Republican candidate for governor Carl Paladino as a horse's behind for saying that "children are being brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option."
"That guy running in New York, I guess his name is Paladino. Frankly, when I heard it at first, I thought it was Palomino, and only part of whom was talking," Frank said.
Bielat is giving Frank the hardest race he's faced since 1982. The 35-year-old first-time candidate gave up his full-time job as an executive at iRobot to run this race. He says his campaign has been boosted by hundreds of thousands of dollars pouring in in small donations from across the country.
Monday night's debate, moderated by NECN's Jim Braude, was Bielat's only chance to show a TV audience that he could stand up to Frank's debating skills.
The recent Wharton MBA found out that going up against the wit of Frank is hard. This became evident when, at one point, Bielat said he would have opposed bailing out General Motors and Chrysler.
"I would have let them go," Bielat said.
"How about that, Barney Frank?" Braude asked.
"There are a lot of people who agree with Sean Bielat. A lot of people agree with everybody. A lot of people think Elvis is still alive, too," Frank replied.
But, with charm, Bielat did manage to throw Frank off balance when the congressman was pointing out that Bielat advocates permanent tax cuts for Americans who make more than $250,000 a year.
"One year might make sense, but that's not what the Republicans are advocating," Frank said. "It's not what Mr. Bielat is advocating. He's advocating..."
"How do you know what I'm advocating?" Bielat asked.
"Because I've read what you said," Frank replied definitively, before showing some impatience with Bielat.
"Do I...what are the ground rules?" Frank asked Braude. "I know when I say something he doesn't like, that he interrupts me. That's been the pattern. The fact is, that I've read what Mr. Bielat said, and he is for making them permanent, as I have read it."
Bielat managed to unnerve Frank once again when the two were debating how to put Social Security on sound financial footing.
"What Barney Frank is saying is: 'Let's not change anything, because I might lose votes. It's not my problem now. We'll kick the can down the road, and hopefully, it works out for the best in 20 or 30 years, and I'm not going to deal with it.' That's the wrong approach," Bielat said.
"That's the kind of distortion Mr. Bielat uses," Frank said, interrupting. "I just said I agree with increasing the tax base. I just said it, and he makes believe I didn't. I said that 'I think you can increase the degree to which...'"
Now it was Bielat's turn to interrupt.
"That's not sufficient, and we both know it," Bielat said.
"Mr. Bielat," Frank remonstrated. "Please Sean, don't do that. It's a constant issue with him."
Bielat, the challenger, managed to put the Frank, the congressman, on the defensive, and in that sense Monday night's debate was a reflection of the race.
This program aired on October 12, 2010.