Democrats exiting the sinking ship?--Part 22: Massachusetts 

Democrat Bill Delahunt has represented the 10th congressional district of Massachusetts since 1996. Since his first election he has never had significant opposition. He won the seat 54%-41% in 1996 and received between 64% and 70% of the vote in general elections from 1998 to 2006. In 2008 he had no Republican opponent at all. This year looks different. In the January 19 special Senate election Republican Scott Brown carried the 10th district 60%-40%. Now the Boston Globe reports that Delahunt is considering retiring rather than running for reelection. He is quoted as saying, “I have held elective office for nearly 40 years. I understand that there is always an ebb and flow. Today you are up and tomorrow you are down. That is the rhythm of political life.”

But this year the rhythm seems especially negative. As the Globe reports, Republican challengers are suddenly springing up in almost all corners of New England.

First, Delahunt has a well-known Republican opponent, former state Treasurer Joe Malone. In addition three other Republicans are running for the party’s nomination. A poll conducted by the Republican firm of McLaughlin and Associates for Malone shows him leading Delahunt among likely voters 37%-34%. That’s a suspiciously high number of undecideds. But 34% is also far lower—in fact it’s only about half—of the percentages Delahunt won in general elections from 1998 to 2006.

Second, Delahunt in 2005 persuaded Venezuelan strong man Hugo Chavez to provide low-cost heating oil for30,000 low-income residents of Massachusetts. This is distributed through Citizens Energy, the organization created by former Congressman Joe Kennedy. Delahunt regards this as a political asset: recipients are grateful presumably for cheap fuel. But as Chavez steps up his suppression of free speech and human rights in Venezuela, and as he adds to his vitriolic criticism of George W. Bush dismissive and contemptuous dismissals of Barack Obama, this may not seem such a good deal for voters. One notable feature of the January 19 special Senate election in Massachusetts was that the low-income and black voters whom many Democrats regard as the chief beneficiaries of their health care bills did not vote in substantial numbers—even though it was as clear as these things ever are that the fate of the Democrats’ health care bills was at stake in the contest.

Third is the case of Amy Bishop, the woman who shot and killed three colleagues at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. What does this have to do with Delahunt? Well, back in 1986 Amy Bishop, then a resident of Braintree, Massachusetts, shot and killed her brother. No charges were brought against her. Bill Delahunt was the District Attorney of Norfolk County then. Boston’s Channel 5 has some of the puzzling deals. Delahunt’s apparent decision not to bring charges 24 years ago may be entirely defensible, for all I know. But it certainly looks questionable today. And it’s not something I would want to be litigating in a political campaign. So I wouldn’t be surprised if Bill Delahunt decides that this is a good year to spend more time with the family.

View Michael Barone's 2010 election map: Are Democrats exiting the sinking ship?

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