By Molly K. Hooper - 09/26/10 02:40 AM EDT
Former President Bill Clinton will lend his star power to veteran Democratic Rep. Barney Frank (Mass.) at an afternoon rally on Sunday.
The 42nd president's appearance with the powerful 15-term House member comes as conservative bloggers and commentators have energized nationwide support for Frank’s GOP challenger, 35-year-old former Marine Sean Bielat. (Bielat now serves in the Marine reserves.)
“It means he’s taking us seriously, he realizes that there is a threat this year. I don’t think he’s campaigning effectively, but he hasn’t had to do it since the '80s,” Bielat said in an interview with The Hill.
At a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor on Friday morning, Frank said, “The Republican running against me [is] saying the fact that I asked Bill Clinton to come in for me shows I’m desperate. I tried to get [Clinton] to come two years ago.”
Still, Sen. Scott Brown’s (R-Mass.) win earlier this year has served as a reminder that this year Democrats – even from Massachusetts – can’t take anything for granted.
Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.), for example, this month said, “I understand I have to earn every vote,” noting the wind at the GOP’s back.
Frank, however, said that he’s previously been the target of “right-wing attacks” so this particular midterm election is “not that much different than last time.”
Frank said the optics of the Clinton visit at a time when political prognosticators predict a “wave” year for Republicans need to be placed in perspective.
“I can not campaign at all and be ‘arrogant.’ Or I can campaign the best I know how. Or alternatively I could campaign but ineffectively -- and I said I suppose instead of inviting Bill Clinton in I could invite Jimmy Carter in,” Frank joked, since Carter recently accused the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) of sabotaging healthcare reform in the 1970s.
Bielat has criticized Frank for his “arrogance of power,” saying constituents who used to like him now want new representation.
Bielat’s campaign has seen a surge in media interest and financial backing after it released an internal poll showing Bielat within 10 candidate percentage points of Frank.
The poll conducted Sept. 15-16 of 400 likely general election voters showed Bielat at 38 percent, Frank at 48 percent and 13 percent undecided. The margin of error was +/- 4.9 percent.
“The biggest news is that Barney Frank has dropped below 50 percent in the head-to-head; this movement is driven by a shift away from Frank by Independents who make up a majority of registered voters,” the memo accompanying the poll conducted by Wes Anderson of OnMessage Inc. stated.
Frank’s campaign spokesman Harry Gural dismissed the poll results, questioning the credibility of the polling company and adding that Frank’s internal poll show a 20 percent difference between the candidates.
“It would be an outsider strategy that you come up with numbers to show you are narrowing the gap to build excitement, that’s just to be expected. We do have a poll but we haven’t released the numbers. But we are confident,” Gural said.
Bielat clearly has an uphill climb. Independent campaign analysts have not labeled the Frank race competitive. President Obama easily won the district, defeating Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), 63-34.
Frank’s war chest of more than $1 million cash-on-hand dwarfs that of Bielat, who had just over $80,000, according to the most recent fundraising data available.
Still, many on the right want to at least force Frank to worry about his re-election.
Bielat’s campaign started to pick up steam this summer when conservative blogger Michelle Malkin made a pitch for the GOP challenger.
Bielat has appeared on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News and was interviewed on CNN this week as House Republicans unveiled their new “Pledge to America.”
While Frank is heavily favored to win, other House panel heads, such as Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) and Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D-S.C.), are in extremely challenging reelection contests.
Since winning the GOP primary on Sept. 14 with 60 percent of the vote, Bielat said that he’s seen a major uptick in financial support – much of which is coming from small donations across the country.
“I never thought we were going to match him in money. They are running a very different race than we are. They are bringing in Clinton for star power, they are dropping a lot of TV and direct mail but they are not doing much else. We’re very much focused on voter-to-voter outreach. We’ve done 70,000 voter to voter phone calls, we’re getting more volunteers everyday and looking at the Brown results,” Bielat said.
While Clinton addresses an estimated crowd of 4,000 in Taunton on Sunday, Bielat supporters will conduct a rally several miles away.
Bielat acknowledged the decision to hold the rally that day was made after Clinton’s visit was announced but claimed that he had intended to hold a rally in Taunton, Mass., at some point before Election Day.