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Elizabeth Childs’s allegiance to GOP scrutinized

Ex-Democrat seeks Frank’s House seat

‘I don’t think the party is as critical as the person,’ said Elizabeth Childs, a Republican running for Congress.

If Republican Elizabeth Childs happens to win the race to succeed US Representative Barney Frank in Congress, the rigidly conservative Republicans who control the US House might have reason to wonder about her party allegiance.

That is because Childs, a Brookline psychiatrist, has been either a registered Democrat or an unenrolled voter for the last two decades. And she has voted in 11 Democratic state and presidential primaries since 1996, according to a review of her voting records in Brookline. Not once has she opted for a Republican ballot.

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To be sure, Childs was the state’s mental health commissioner under Governor Mitt Romney, a Republican, although the biography on her campaign website highlights her family camping experience in Alaska before mentioning her appointment by Romney.

On that website, childsforcongress.com, the fact that Childs is running as a Republican is hardly mentioned. It is not cited at all on the home page or in the “about’’ or “issues’’ sections, where there is hardly a whiff of partisan leaning.

In March 2008, Childs opted for a Democratic presidential primary ballot to vote for Hillary Clinton, she said in an interview. At that point, Romney was on the GOP ballot, though he was days short of abandoning the race.

Childs first registered as a Republican last July, just before sending out a letter declaring her intention to run as a Republican for Frank’s seat. The three-decade House veteran did not announce his retirement until late November.

To have a chance to take the seat, Childs must first win her party’s nomination against Sean Bielat, who lost to Frank in 2010.

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The Republican primary winner would probably face Democrat Joseph P. Kennedy III in the November election.

Bielat himself had Democratic roots, though not as recent or as deep. He first registered as a Republican in Massachusetts in 2007. He had been registered as a Democrat in New York before that, but had not voted there for several years.

In an interview, Childs downplayed her party affiliation, as she does on her website. “I don’t think the party is as critical as the person,’’ Childs said. “I don’t think the party is what matters here.’’

What does matter, she said, is that she is fiscally conservative and socially moderate. And she sees herself as being a bridge-builder in the US House between two parties for whom the middle ground has largely vanished.

Last week, Frank expressed bemusement at the Republican mantle chosen by Childs, suggesting she donned it only to run against him - knowing that his Republican opponent would easily raise large sums of money, as Bielat did in 2010.

So far, Childs has embraced bipartisanship - and avoided taking detailed positions. She said she supports Romney for president. And despite her longtime preference for Democratic primary ballots, Childs said she voted for Senator John McCain over Barack Obama in November 2008.

Before she moved to Massachusetts, Childs said, she was a Republican in her native Ohio, but abandoned the GOP in the 1980s because she disagreed with the party’s opposition to a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion.

So why rejoin the party now? Because, Childs said, she feels that other freedoms “were so basic that if we didn’t get the fiscal house in order and deal with America’s future security and prosperity, it wasn’t going to matter.’’

Still, she acknowledged that she remains uncomfortable with the Republican Party’s platform “regulating moral decisions.’’

“It’s a compromise, I agree, because [the party] still hasn’t come around to where it should be in terms of women’s personal freedoms. I don’t think that the platform is right,’’ Childs said.

Childs, an elected member of the nonpartisan Brookline School Committee since 2009, will relinquish her seat this spring to run for Congress.

Alan Morse, a fellow School Committee member, said he does not believe Childs’s Democratic Party voting history will be a detriment. By Morse’s reckoning, Childs has demonstrated the ability to find solutions to problems that satisfy all parties involved.

“She has a clear talent that is needed in any public legislature,’’ Morse said. “In fact, we have a problem in Congress in arriving at constructive conclusions.’’

This article was reported by Tabeek and Finn for a seminar in Investigative Reporting at Northeastern University. It was edited by Journalism Professor Walter V. Robinson. He can be reached at w.robinson@neu.edu.

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