The retirement of longtime congressman Barney Frank has opened a rare vacancy in the Massachusetts congressional delegation, and three GOP candidates — psychiatrist Elizabeth Childs, Marine reservist and high-tech manager Sean Bielat, and dentist David Steinhof — have thrown their hats into the race for the party’s nomination. The best choice here is Childs — who, like many Republican candidates nationwide this year, professes a relentless desire to bring the nation’s finances under control. But unlike some other GOP candidates, she also recognizes Republicans can’t simply impose their vision.
Childs brings some crucial insights into the issue of deficit reduction. She recognizes that the biggest threat to the nation’s fiscal stability comes from the health care system — and particularly from the growth of Medicare as baby boomers retire. As a practicing psychiatrist and former commissioner of mental health under Governor Mitt Romney, she has detailed knowledge of the cost pressures that exist within the system. Childs’s stances on social matters — supporting abortion rights and relatively receptive to same-sex marriage — are in keeping with a long tradition of Massachusetts Republicanism. What makes her the most solid candidate in this field, though, is her experience and her sense of urgency about making a budget deal that can get through a divided Congress.
In certain key ways, Bielat is a more intriguing candidate. He won the respect of Republicans nationwide by taking on Frank two years ago and grew notably more polished over the course of a bruising campaign against a famously tough debater. A former manager at iRobot, Bielat is knowledgeable about a tech sector that needs better representation in 21st-century Massachusetts politics. GOP voters seeking a conservative with a crisp presentation will find a lot to like in him.
For all his advantages, though, Bielat often seems needlessly evasive. Two years ago, he was reluctant to talk about his more conservative social stances. Earlier in this campaign, he refused to identify his employer — which turned out to be a seemingly inoffensive political-communication website. Secrecy may be de rigueur in high tech, but Bielat hasn’t yet come to grips with the level of openness that electoral politics demands. The $2,750 fine he agreed to pay recently for campaign finance accounting problems from his 2010 race doesn’t inspire confidence, either.
A third candidate in the race is David Steinhof, a dentist from Fall River who touts his Tea Party support. Steinhof is affable in conversation and debates, but his accusation online that Childs has support from “Obamunists” suggests he’s not likely to elevate the discussion in a Washington that needs less partisanship, not more.