Campaign Crawlers

Catching Up With the Georgia Preacher

Is it possible to defeat a genuine McGovernite in people’s Massachusetts?

By 7.23.04

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Ron Crews, the former Georgia State Senator who headed Massachusetts Family Institute for three years, announced his run for U.S. Congress in the Third District of Massachusetts in May. He opposes incumbent Rep. James McGovern, referred to by some conservative wiseacres as "James (I Heart Fidel) McGovern" for his outspoken concern for Cuba and the rest of Latin America. You could not find a more distinctly contrasting set of candidates. Crews, an ordained minister, one of the nation's most visible advocates against gay marriage; McGovern, who never met a gay or feminist activist he didn't like. I wrote about the contrast then, in "A Georgia Preacher Takes on Massachusetts."

Surprisingly, Crews said, many people in the Third have no idea how McGovern votes. Crews has kept himself busy, telling them.

For example, McGovern voted, with 160 other Democrats, including all 10 members of the Massachusetts delegation, against an amendment to forbid U.N. monitoring of the 2004 U.S. elections. (The measure was offered by Steve Buyer, Indiana Republican, as an amendment to the appropriations bill, HR 4818.) The application of a handful of Democrat wingnuts to the U.N. for such monitoring got wide press notice. But the vote, against a move to forbid "giv[ing] away a piece of our sovereignty to the U.N., I found that outrageous," Crews said. "And the press here pretty much ignored that. I trust the town clerks of Attleboro or Shrewsbury to conduct fair elections. I don't want blue-helmeted U.N. soldiers standing around here." (For a story about that vote, see the Washington Post's coverage here.)

Another of Crews's favorite points is that "McGovern gave an impassioned speech about increased funding for education -- in Colombia, not in Princeton or Worcester. I think we ought to be concerned about school funding here."

Talking about McGovern's votes has won over voters, Crews said.

"I was at a home in Fall River last Wednesday. There were 22 folks there. When I identified votes McGovern had taken, several said, 'I had no idea.'" Several of his audience were registered Democrats, but they are Catholic, and pro-life, Crews said. "One person came up to me and said, 'Ron, I'm 82 years old. I've been driving since I was 18, and I've never had a bumper sticker on my car, but I will tonight.'"

The old man gave Crews an envelope with five dollars in it. "I felt that that was the widow's mite," Crews recalled. "It was very, very precious."

Since I first spoke with Crews about his then prospective campaign, back in April, he has acquired the practiced savvy of a politician on the stump -- nothing new for him, after repeated races in Georgia. He drops names of local towns into his sentences quickly and frequently. It's a rhetorical trick, of course, but an effective one: I know the district. I'm a local guy. Crews speaks every day at some venue or other. And he's getting positive press from two newspapers in the district, the Metro West Daily News and the Attleboro Sun Chronicle.

It's almost funny, seeing how the two papers rope Crews's name and campaign into stories about almost anything -- media bias in reverse. An ordinary story based on recent Federal Election Commission reports of campaign contributions in the Daily News, for example, spent almost twice as many words on Crews as on incumbent McGovern.

The bad news is that McGovern has raised more than five times as much money as Crews, $215,675 to $42,262. McGovern has spent about half his funds; Crews, almost all of his.

"We don't have any polling yet," Crews said. "We're working on that." He cited two polls done last year, one of the district, and another statewide poll on the marriage issue. Those polls, Crews said, "confirmed was we believed -- that this district is a conservative district. Well over a majority, in the high 50s and low 60s, identify themselves as pro-life, pro-traditional marriage. They support tax cuts, and they support the war on terror."

So what are Crews's chances?

"That's a good question. I honestly don't know. I'm running this race to win. If we can expose the McGovern voting record for what it is, people will realize that he is not in touch with this district. That there is someone who does hold the values of the majority of this district."

Against that effort, there is the sheer bloody-minded inertia of Democratic voting in Massachusetts.

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About the Author

Lawrence Henry writes every week from North Andover, Massachusetts.