Political Hay

A Georgia Preacher Takes on Massachusetts

And its 100 percent Democratic congressional delegation may not remain intact.

By 4.16.04

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"Gay Marriage Foe Eyes Run for House," blared the Boston Globe's front-page headline on April 10. Local radio stations picked up on it the same day. The "Foe" is Ron Crews, president of Massachusetts Family Institute, the leading advocacy organization for family issues in Massachusetts, and, thanks to Crews, one of the most prominently quoted and referenced such organizations in the country.

When the news broke, Crews, a former state senator from Georgia who moved to Massachusetts four years ago, had just begun to explore the possibility of a House run in his district, the Third, against four-term incumbent Democrat James McGovern.

"I would have chosen a different format" for the announcement, Crews said wryly. The previous week, he had met with 16 supporters at his home and decided to form an exploratory committee. Some of those 16 had gone to town clerks in the district to get nomination papers. Some clerks, in turn, had told them they had to disclose who they intended to nominate.

"I don't know if that's really true," Crews said. But the ultra-efficient network of Secretary of State Bill Galvin kicked into gear and got the tip to the Globe and local news stations.

Crews' reputation did the rest.

Since taking over the MFI, Crews has demonstrated his skill at political communication, getting himself and MFI on the speed-dials of news editors and producers from CNN, MSNBC, Fox, and every major newspaper. When the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court voted that the Commonwealth had to provide for homosexual marriage, Crews found himself on TV almost non-stop.

His opponent, James McGovern, a lifelong politico, got a boost onto the House Judiciary Committee from his Democratic mentor, Rep. Joseph Moakley, whom he served as chief of staff. McGovern's written statement to the Globe echoed the standard Democratic mantras about jobs, health care, and the environment, and "people."

Crews said he thinks McGovern is "out of touch with the District's conservative base. There is a strong pro-life community in the district. And we know from this work over the marriage issue that there is a majority in the district that supports marriage as it's always been defined."

Crews noted that McGovern signed a letter, along with all the rest of Massachusetts' 100 percent Democratic congressional delegation, opposing any amendment banning gay marriage. "He voted against the partial-birth abortion bill. He voted against the fetal protection bill," Crews said.

He also said that McGovern spends a lot of time on Latin American issues and in Latin America. An immigration reform group, Numbers USA, has posted McGovern's votes on immigration issues, and apparently sees that record as negative -- i.e., thoughtlessly pro-immigration. In a state like Massachusetts, where voters display a strong streak of nativism and resentment toward immigrants, both legal and illegal, that could be the stuff of a challenge.

Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, carried the Third with 53 percent of the vote last election. So Crews thinks he has a chance. And winning wouldn't be unprecedented for a Republican. Before McGovern, the district was represented by Republican Peter Blute, now a talk radio host on Boston's WRKO.

It's going to be interesting, if Crews pulls together the necessary signatures and money, which I think he will. The race pits one of the nation's best political communicators, an ordained Georgia minister, a Colonel in the National Guard, a man identified with "the religious right," against a Democratic machine politician in the quintessential Democratic machine state.

If Crews wins, he will transform the Massachusetts congressional delegation. With his ability to command press attention, he'll make Barney Frank look like an also-ran. He will revitalize the Massachusetts Republican Party.

Will Massachusetts swing voters punch the ballot for a Georgia preacher? If enough of them do, this race could transform national politics, too.

(Disclosure: My wife and I contribute to Massachusetts Family Institute, and I wrote a pamphlet on abstinence education for MFI last year.)

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About the Author

Lawrence Henry writes every week from North Andover, Massachusetts.