With Republicans at risk of losing Senate seats in at least Virginia, Alaska, New Hampshire, Colorado, and New Mexico, it seems far-fetched to believe that the GOP could pick up a seat in deep-blue Massachusetts. In fact, practically no one does believe it — with the not insignificant exception of Jeff Beatty, the homeland-security expert who is Sen. John Kerry’s scrappy Republican challenger this fall.
Beatty wasn’t even supposed to get this far. The Republican establishment, both in Washington, D.C. and Boston, preferred another candidate, Jim Ogonowski. Ogonowski had surprised political pundits by doing much better than expected in an October 2007 special election in the Fifth Congressional District. For many Republicans, it was as simple as this: Beatty had run against Democratic Congressman Bill Delahunt in 2006 and won just 29 percent of the vote; Ogonowski received 46 percent of the vote against now-Congresswoman Niki Tsongas. Case closed.
The conventional wisdom left out some important context. Ogonoswki ran for an open seat in the commonwealth’s least Democratic district after the Democrats went through a divisive primary. Beatty was campaigning against an entrenched incumbent in more hostile territory. Now he is going to get another chance. Ogonowski failed to collect enough signatures to qualify for the primary ballot. Beatty easily made the cut
“The scary thing is that we’ve got a plan and we’re ahead of schedule,” Beatty told me in an interview, citing $1.3 million raised, 35,000 individual donations, and 2,000 volunteers as evidence that his campaign is firing on all cylinders. But his greatest assets, he argues, are his experience and the unpopularity of both Kerry and Democratic Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.
A FORMER DELTA FORCE officer who earned a Purple Heart and Combat Infantry Badge during President Reagan’s 1983 rescue mission in Grenada, Beatty is a veteran of the CIA Counter-Terrorism Office and has run his own anti-terrorism consulting firm.
His clients have included the Boston public schools and the Massachusetts Port Authority, in addition to homeland-security consulting for the Statue of Liberty and the Rose Bowl. He opposes both Kerry’s vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq — “I would not have voted for the war based on the information available and believe John Kerry’s vote for the war wasn’t based on the merits” — and the incumbent senator’s advocacy of a fixed timetable for withdrawal. Beatty contends that Kerry wanted in then and out now for reasons of political expedience.
Beatty hopes that by emphasizing his national-security credentials and his domestic-policy platform of lower taxes, drilling to increase domestic energy production, and curtailing illegal immigration, he can score an upset. That’s a tall order, but one thing to keep in mind is that while Kerry’s liberal voting record resembles Ted Kennedy’s, his personal popularity and election results don’t.
Every Republican who has ever challenged John Kerry has broken 40 percent of the vote. By contrast, in nine separate races only two candidates — George Cabot Lodge in 1962 and Mitt Romney in 1994 — have ever broken 40 percent against Kennedy. Then Gov. Bill Weld held Kerry to just 52 percent of the vote in 1996, while Bill Clinton was stomping Bob Dole 61 percent to 28 percent. When the dysfunctional Bay State GOP failed to recruit a candidate to run against Kerry in 2002, a Libertarian managed to draw nearly a fifth of the vote against him.
Beatty believes this is the first time Massachusetts will be in reach for a Republican presidential candidate since 1984, when Ronald Reagan ran up big margins in the Greater Boston area suburbs. “We’ve seen the prequel in Deval Patrick,” he says of Barack Obama.
Not coincidentally, 1984 was also the year when Kerry faced one of his toughest challenges as he squared off with conservative Republican Ray Shamie for the Senate seat being vacated by Paul Tsongas. That year, Reagan won and Shamie lost but Beatty believes 2008 can be different. He points to a Zogby poll showing that when voters are given his biographical information, he and Kerry are virtually tied.
Yet the liberal Boston media is unlikely to help Beatty spread his message and other polling indicates that both he and John McCain are very much underdogs headed into the fall campaign. If the Republican challenger isn’t leading yet in Louisiana, what hope is there in Massachusetts?
If past elections are any guide, the Democrats will outspend, outnumber, and outmaneuver the beleaguered Massachusetts GOP. This is not the year to bet on Republican underdogs, and that includes Jeff Beatty.
But then again, I was one of those pundits betting on Jim Ogonowski to win the primary.