With House in question, is Frank ‘running scared’?

Barney Frank

Barney Frank

The first in a three-part series on the mid-term elections

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the angst surrounding next month’s Congressional elections. The 24/7 media are hyping a Republican takeover of the House and maybe the Senate. A switch in party leadership of either chamber will represent a major setback for pro-LGBT goals in Congress—even relative to the modest goals achieved thus far under a Democratic-led House and Senate. Not only would pro-gay legislation not advance, even in committee, but the LGBT community would likely find itself on the defensive, fending off hostile legislation.

“While certainly some Republican members have voted with us, their leadership is not supportive,” said Fred Sainz, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, the national LGBT community’s de facto lobby. And the party that controls each chamber, he noted, “gets to set the agenda and control what bills will be voted on.”

“If the leadership doesn’t support equality, then they will never allow bills aimed at equality to see the light of day,” said Sainz. “That’s what’s at stake in this election.”

So, how likely is it that Republicans will take back leadership of either chamber? Polling data are our crystal balls.

Fivethirtyeight.com, the New York Times-affiliated political data-analysis unit which does an intensive crunch of polling numbers based on a careful weighting of important variables (such as demographics, poll reliability, proximity to voting day, etc.), forecasts Democrats in the Senate losing seven seats but clinging to 52 seats on November 2. For the House, it forecasts Republicans likely to have 224 seats to the Democrats’ 211. Those forecasts are as of September 30 and October 1.

That would be a big switch in the House—46 seats, from the current 257 Democrats and 178 Republicans.

Three Democratic seats that are apparently very safe are those held by the House’s only three openly gay members: Barney Frank, Tammy Baldwin, and Jared Polis. Polis has no challenger and the threefiftyeight-NYT analysis calculates that Frank and Baldwin’s seats are “100 percent” safe.

The only odd news in these races is that a gay Republican group called GOProud endorsed Frank’s Republican challenger, Sean Bielat. The group says Frank is partly to blame for the nation’s financial woes and says his Republican challenger, Sean Bielat, “believes that marriage is a state issue and opposes a federal constitutional amendment.”

But Bielat’s positions have changed in the past several months. In an interview with the Boston Globe, published February 19, Bielat indicated he supports “the Massachusetts law legalizing gay marriage.” (There was no statutory law doing that; only a state supreme court ruling that the constitution requires equal treatment of same-sex couples under the law.) But in an interview published July 25 by SouthCoastToday.com, Bielat indicated he opposes same-sex marriage, civil unions, and gays in the military.

Bielat’s recently updated website provides what one must presume is his official position now: “I have a traditional understanding of marriage. I believe that efforts to change the way marriage has been legally defined should be subject to either a legislative or referendum process. I also believe that marriage should remain a state issue.”

Concerning “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Bielat’s website indicates he believes “the military, not Congress” should determine the policy concerning gays in the service.

“Gay rights activists argue that gays and lesbians have served proudly and deserve to serve openly,” states Bielat. “As a member of the Marine Reserves who has served on active duty, I honor every soldier who takes up arms for our country. Each deserves our respect and gratitude. The American military, however, does not exist to support the individuality and diversity of soldiers but to protect the American homeland and people. Individual rights and preferences in the armed forces are always secondary to mission accomplishment, as they must be. If and when military leaders, free from political coercion and after studying the issue, believe that gays serving openly will enhance, or have no impact on, our military capability, I will support their decision.”

On a local Fox News interview September 25, he was more direct, “I support the current policy.”

Interestingly, despite polls that show Frank has a safe seat, many political news reports in Massachusetts are saying Frank is in a tough fight for re-election, primarily because he’s represented his district for almost 30 years now, he just turned 70, and the media insists there’s an anti-incumbent sentiment growing among voters generally.

But large, national and recent polls don’t support the anti-incumbent theory.

An ABC/Washington Post poll September 30 to October 3 of 1,002 adults nationwide found that 61 percent disapprove of “the way the Democrats in Congress are doing their jobs.” The same poll found 67 percent disapprove of “the way the Republicans in Congress are doing their job.” Ditto a Pew Research poll of 1,002 adults during the same time period: 53 percent disapprove of how “Democratic leaders in Congress are doing,” 60 percent disapprove of how “Republican leaders in Congress are doing.” Ditto a CBS/New York Times poll September 10 to 14 of 990 adults: 50 percent disapprove how Democrats in Congress are doing, 68 percent disapprove Republicans in Congress.

Frank is both a Democrat and a Democratic leader. He chairs the House Financial Services Committee. He’s also the most senior and most visible of the House’s three openly gay members.

While he’s gotten $9,000 from the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and almost $9,500 from the Human Rights Campaign, that’s less than three percent of the $635,500 he’s received from various political action committees. In all, as of the August 25 report to the Federal Elections Commission, his campaign has raised $2.4 million.

In contrast, Bielat, 35, has raised $261,840 in the same time period, all from individuals, both in state and out. He’s, thus, posing a sort of David-versus-Goliath image for his bid and says a poll his campaign commissioned sees him within 10 points of catching Frank. There have been no independent polls conducted on the race thus far.

In some respects, Bielat’s campaign is bolstered by devices other than the candidate. For one, Frank has waged a campaign this year, whereas, in some years, he’s had no opponent. But this year, he also hosted a rally with former President Bill Clinton as speaker and has had two Obama cabinet secretaries with him on the campaign trail. The Wall Street Journal noted Tuesday that Frank was giving much less money to his fellow Democrats’ campaigns than in past years, suggesting he’s having to campaign “aggressively” to beat back an anti-incumbent mood.

Bielat and Republicans point to all this as evidence that Frank is “running scared.” But it’s a claim that’s hard to justify. For one, Frank won his primary with almost 40,000 votes compared to Bielat winning his with 12,000. For another, Frank beat his last Republican opponent with 68 percent of the vote, compared to the Republican’s 25 percent. Even the Journal concedes a Frank loss is “unlikely.”

Frank will debate Bielat Monday, October 11, on a local AM station’s talk radio show—at 7 a.m. (Streamed at www.audio.wrko.com.)

There is one more important and apparently safe Democratic seat that involves an openly gay candidate. David Cicilline, the openly gay mayor of Providence, recently won a four-man race to secure the Democratic nomination. The NYT-threefiftyeight analysis describes his chances of beating the Republican candidate as 96 percent. Various small polls in September showed Cicilline with a lead of between 18 and 23 points. As of August 25, Cicilline had raised $1.4 million, Loughlin had raised $469,533.

The men, and two other independent candidates, seek to replace Rep. Patrick Kennedy, one in a long line of Democrats, who is vacating his seat.

One Response to With House in question, is Frank ‘running scared’?

  1. Mike says:

    Barney has been my hero for years, but the abject failure of the Democrats to pass any meaningful gay rights legislation has been a disaster. As a gay man, I know now that I will never live in a free country or have equal rights.

Leave a Reply