In this election cycle, two US House races — the hotly contested Sixth District and the open seat in the Fourth District — have drawn most of the attention. But there are four other congressional races in Massachusetts in which a Democratic incumbent faces Republican opposition. Some of these challengers have much to offer, but in each case the incumbent has the edge.
In the Third District, incumbent Niki Tsongas faces a rematch against Jon Golnik, an amiable, upbeat Republican who’s worked as a currency trader in New York and more recently has run small businesses. After winning the GOP primary, he’s settled into what’s largely a standard-issue conservative campaign; he’s taken activist Grover Norquist’s no-new-taxes pledge, which rules out any serious effort to deal with the federal deficit.
In her five years in office, Tsongas has been entirely practical. As a member of the Armed Services Committee, she’s made a priority of pressing for body armor for service members and fighting sexual abuse for women in the military. And since the last election, the Third District has been redrawn in a way that plays to Tsongas’ strengths. In addition to Lawrence, Methuen, Haverhill, and her home city of Lowell, the district now includes Fitchburg. All of these are so-called gateway cities — the former mill towns that have sought, with varying degrees of success, to reinvent themselves in a post-industrial era. Lowell has become a model for the other cities, and Tsongas has an on-the-ground understanding of how transportation improvements and the close attention of public officials can combine to promote economic development in these communities.
Fifth District incumbent Edward Markey has followed the classic path for a Massachusetts congressman by leveraging his long service in the House to gain enormous influence over key national issues. A native of Malden and the son of a milkman, Markey is a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and the ranking Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee. On legislation involving telecommunications and Internet matters, Markey has provided a much-needed pro-consumer voice. He’s used his perch to push for higher fuel-economy standards for automobiles, the development of renewable-energy technology, and other federal actions to deal with climate change. Sadly, the threat of global warming has attracted little attention in the presidential race, but Markey’s expertise and his commitment to move forward on the issue are all the more reason for voters to send him back to Washington. He far outmatches his opponent, Republican citizen-politician Tom Tierney, in a district that stretches from Winthrop to Framingham and takes in an arc of communities to Boston’s north and west.
The Eighth District, which takes in South Boston, the South Shore, and other areas to the south and west, is among the more conservative in Massachusetts. Not coincidentally, it’s represented by Stephen Lynch, the most conservative Democrat in the state’s delegation. The former ironworker irked many constituents by voting against Obamacare. But he’s pleased constituents with his stalwart support for military veterans and emphasis on nuts-and-bolts issues. Meanwhile, as the son of a postal worker and the ranking Democrat on a House subcommittee that oversees the US Postal Service, he has a unique and well-informed perspective on the troubles facing that agency. He’s protective of it but also sees a need to reduce its workforce and consolidate post offices as mail volume declines.
Lynch has an intriguing and engaging opponent: Navy veteran Joe Selvaggi, a founder of Plaster Fun Time, a business oriented toward children’s art. Selvaggi expresses enthusiasm for individual liberties and livable urban communities, but he hasn’t fully worked through how to reconcile those values with how legislation grinds forward in a Washington. His bid for Congress feels like an overshoot at this point, but Selvaggi would make a strong candidate for the state Legislature or some other office. In the current race, Lynch’s experience and knowledge of the district make him the better choice.
Massachusetts’ southeasternmost district changed a lot in the most recent reapportionment. The new Ninth District brings together the Cape and Islands, much of Plymouth County, and the South Coast region centered on New Bedford. Incumbent William Keating has embraced that maritime orientation wholeheartedly. He seeks to promote higher-ed programs targeted toward jobs in marine-related industries. His work on controversial matters ranging from Cape Wind to federal fishing limits has shown him to be an approachable, sensible conciliator. A former Norfolk County district attorney who transferred his residence to Bourne after the redistricting, Keating has also built on his old job — specifically, on a bizarre case of a North Carolina teen whose body fell out of an airplane wheel well and landed in Milton — to bring much-needed attention to the problem of airport perimeter security. Christopher Sheldon, a business consultant who won the Republican nomination in a squeaker, shows some promise. But Keating, who also faces independent Daniel Botelho, more than merits reelection.