Could Barney Frank lose his House seat to newcomer Sean Bielat?

The race has long been considered a slam-dunk for Barney Frank, but now it's getting some attention. That's partly because of his status as a powerful Democrat that Republicans love to hate.

By , Staff writer

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    Candidates for Massachusetts Fourth Congressional District incumbent Democrat Rep. Barney Frank, left, and Republican challenger Sean Bielat, center, participate in a taping session for a televised debate hosted by Jim Braude, right, at the television studios of New England Cable News, in Newton, Mass., Oct. 11.
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Is Barney Frank (D) really in danger of losing the US congressional seat he’s held in Massachusetts for 29 years?

The short answer: not really.

But it’s surprising that the race – long considered a slam-dunk for Representative Frank – is even being talked about. The attention is due in part to Frank's status as a powerful Democrat that Republicans love to hate.

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True, the FiveThirtyEight forecasting model (by New York Times polling expert Nate Silver) projects that Frank will beat his Republican opponent, Sean Bielat, by a margin of almost 20 points.

And it’s unlikely that things will change because of a recent flap in which Frank’s domestic partner, Jim Ready, exchanged words with Mr. Bielat that were caught on video.

Still, a few signs point to this at least being a real contest for Frank, something he hasn’t had in decades.

For one thing, his district, Massachusetts’ Fourth – a reliable Democratic bastion – voted for Scott Brown, the Republican Senate candidate, in January’s special election.

Then there’s a recent internal poll from Bielat that shows the former US marine lieutenant down by just 10 points and Frank's support just below 50 percent – always a dangerous place for an incumbent.

Of course, internal polls are notoriously unreliable, and Frank’s poll has him leading by 24 points.

Yet last week, the Cook Political Report changed its assessment of the district from “solid Democratic” to “likely Democratic.”

While Frank is still far ahead in terms of his campaign war chest – he has about a 3-to-1 advantage going into the final weeks of the campaign, according to the Federal Election Commission – Bielat actually raised more money than Frank in the past month.

Most of that backing comes from out-of-state Republicans.

"It's absolutely true I'm getting the bulk of my money from outside the state," Bielat told the Associated Press recently. "On the other hand, it's absolutely true that he is, too."

It’s the first foray into politics for Bielat, a former executive for a robotics company. And unlike some candidates moving to the right in other races, Bielat is staking out some unconventional positions for a Republican in hopes of increasing his appeal in the liberal district. That includes his call for the withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan.

His attacks on Frank have primarily focused on the congressman's role in the financial crisis. He's asserted that Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, helped trigger the housing crash by overpromoting homeownership and supported Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac without seeing the danger they posed to the system.

“He’s been one of the architects of the financial crisis,” he told the AP.

Frank, for his part, has acknowledged that he missed some warning signs of the collapse (as did many others), and he's tried to shift the debate to Bielat’s position on Social Security: He’d like to raise the retirement age for younger workers.

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