TWO Republican businessmen are vying to take on Massachusetts' junior US senator, Democrat John Kerry, whom the GOP sees as vulnerable in November's elections. Mr. Kerry, a liberal, is completing his first term in the Senate. While Massachusetts is considered one of the most liberal states in the nation, the Democratic Party's monolithic power here may be starting to crack. Voters, angry at the Democrats' handling of the state budget crisis, are indicating in surveys that they might turn to the GOP.
``John Kerry is one of the most vulnerable US senators in the country, based on polling numbers,'' asserts Alexander Tennant, executive director of the Massachusetts Republicans. ``He's more interested in Nicaragua than in solving the political problems of facing this state.''
A recent Boston Herald-WCVB-TV poll appears to confirm that Kerry is no shoo-in. The survey of 503 registered voters, taken Jan. 18, showed that 47 percent had a high opinion of Kerry, while 30 percent had no opinion or had never heard of him, and 16 percent had a low opinion.
Hingham entrepreneur Dan Daly and Concord real estate developer Jim Rappaport would both like to be the GOP candidate for Kerry's job. While their positions on most issues are similar, a key exception being abortion: Mr. Rappaport is pro-choice, while Mr. Daly opposes abortion in most circumstances.
Daly says he can bring more depth and breadth of experience to bear against Kerry than can Rappaport, who, at 34, is 12 years his junior. ``I'm the only Republican candidate who has been here for 20 years in Massachusetts, building businesses, creating jobs, meeting payrolls,'' he says. A Vietnam veteran, Daly says that only he can confront Kerry's record as a founder of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
Rappaport says he can better articulate the issues and run ``an effective, serious campaign.... John Kerry needs to be challenged by someone who is articulate, aggressive, and well financed.''
To get on the ballot for the September primary, a candidate must obtain at least 15 percent of the delegate votes at the March 10 state convention.
RAPPAPORT appears to be the front-runner. He claims the support of 150 local party chairmen, 21 out of 40 GOP state legislators, and 60 of the party's state committeemen. A recent Boston Globe-WBZ-TV poll shows Republican voters favoring Rappaport over Daly by 23 percent to 15 percent.
Daly, who was recruited by the National Republican Senatorial Committee in Washington, calls the delegate contest ``wide open,'' and predicts he will do well at the convention.
The candidate who receives the convention endorsement will be eligible for party help in the race.
Either candidate will have an uphill fight. The Boston Herald-WCVB-TV poll found that Rappaport has a 10 percent favorability rating while 82 percent of those polled had never heard of him or had no opinion. Daly had a 5 percent favorability rating with 91 percent expressing no opinion or ignorance.
Both men often sound as if they are running for state office. Each blames Kerry, along with Gov. Michael Dukakis, for the Bay State's fiscal condition.
``Michael Dukakis and John Kerry are the Siamese twins of Massachusetts politics,'' Rappaport says. Both he and Daly contrast their entrepreneurial experience with Kerry's many years in government as proof they understand economics better than the senator does.
The candidates have similar stands on many issues:
The economy. Both support President Bush's proposal to cut the capital-gains tax. Both say any money saved by cuts in defense spending should go to reduce the deficit, not to social programs.
Education. Neither candidate thinks the federal government should spend more on education. Both want to explore ideas such as magnet schools, and increased teacher accountability. Rappaport says US schools have too many administrators per teacher.
Environment. On the clean-air bill, Rappaport believes that Midwest industry should pick up the tab for acid rain, while Daly would agree to having Northeastern states pay a token amount. Daly says he would seek more federal funding for Boston Harbor cleanup if needed, while Rappaport criticizes the state for spending elsewhere funds meant for the cleanup.
Abortion. Daly says he is against abortion except in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother. He does not support federal funding of abortions. Rappaport is pro-choice and is for federal funding of abortions for poor women in the case of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.