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The race for Congress in the fourth district may be the only interesting race in Massachusetts this year, mostly because it's the only one that will be close. Arthur Mason, a Republican, is trying to unseat three-term Democratic Representative Robert F. Drinan in the district that extends from Brookline to Framingham and Gardner.
The district is one of the strangest in country. The eastern part of the district, Brookline and Newton, is Jewish and highly liberal. That is where Drinan is the strongest. Further west in Framingham, which has liberal-Jewish, blue-collar and moderate communities, and to the far west are Gardner and Fitchburg, which are Catholic, conservative and working-class. Of the approximately 500,000 people in the district, half are Catholic, 150,000 are Protestant and 100,000 are Jewish.
In such a district, candidates must appeal to the Jews in the east and the Catholics in the west to win. Both Drinan and Mason have that kind of appeal. Drinan has earned a reputation in Congress as a liberal maverick, fighting against the Vietnam War and defense appropriations, and pressing for the impeachment of President Nixon. But Drinan is also a Catholic priest, so he usually runs strong in Catholic areas.
Mason's qualifications are similarly tailored for the district. He is Jewish, went to Boston College, a Jesuit school, and is a Vietnam War hero. He lives in south Brookline, the most Jewish part of the town, and is a member of a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Newton that boasts more than 1000 members. He has appealed to the west by emphasizing his moderate positions, Catholic education, and war record.
Both campaigns have plenty of money. Drinan and Mason had each raised more than $110,000 by the beginning of October. Much of Drinan's support has come labor unions and wealthy liberals, while Mason's funds have come from the Republican National Committee, the American Medical Political Action Committee, and numerous businessmen through out the state and the country.
Observers expect Mason to spend about $200,000 by the end of the campaign, because only 65 per cent of the voters in the district recognize his name while more than 90 per cent know Drinan's.
The Republican National Committee has targeted the fourth district as one of ten races in the country it really wants to win. The district was targeted in the 1972 election, but Drinan won then although he received less than 50 per cent of the vote. The National Committee's action may even have a negative affect on Mason. "It makes Drinan look like a hero," Martin A. Linsky, the fourth district's Republican candidate in 1972, says.
But when Linsky ran, there were three candidates in the race--the third a conservative independent who lost in the Republican primary but collected enough signatures to run in the general election. The 1970 and 1974 races were also three-way, and Drinan has never received more than 50 per cent of the district's vote.
This fact has fueled much of Mason's campaign. Linsky estimates that 25 per cent of the people hate Drinan, but adds that "no one will win on Drinan's unpopularity."
Mason will be counting on the western part of the district because the eastern portion is pretty much in Drinan's pocket. The Catholics in the west often say they don't like a priest in politics and seem enthusiastic about the challenger up until Election Day. Linsky is familiar with this phenomenon. "People complain about a priest in politics, but in Fitchburg they vote 8-to-1 or 9-to-1 for him. The people fall all over you, but once they get into the voting booth, they don't want to vote against someone who is a 'messenger of God on earth,'" Linsky says.
Framingham could be the pivotal town in the district. Mason must win a large majority of the vote there and stay fairly even in the rest of the distdrict to have a chance to win. Mason is now favored in Framingham, which has large blue-collar and middle class communities. State Representative Barbara Grey gives Mason a slighted edge in Framingham because he is better-organized and because of Drinan's liberal views on abortion, which are being criticized in local churches.
Mason started to think about running for Congress a year and half ago. "I thought our district needed an effective legislator. I didn't think we were getting the right type of legislator for 1976," Mason says. Mason objects to Drinan's voting record on defense appropriations, claiming that Drinan has voted against "every single defense budget since he's been in Congress. And now, when the Army is thinking about closing Ft. Devens in the northern part of the district, Mason says that Drinan's fight to keep the base open is "hypocritical and lacks credibility."
Mason's campaign is focusing on the economic issues of the district, which has a very high unemployment rate. "I would stimulate the economy in the Northeast through tax incentives and training programs, and would try to get the solar institute here," he says.
Drinan has only had four weeks of campaigning in defense of his seat. His campaign strategy has been to emphasize his record in Congress. "He's talking about traditional Democratic values--he's cut unemployment in the district by 25 per cent," Lois S. Traub, Drinan's campaign manager, says. Traub says that Drinan welcomes Mason's challenge because it will put to rest a lot of misunderstanding about the support Drinan has in the district.
If past elections are an indication, Drinan will beat Mason. There is very little chance that Mason can stay even with Drinan in the east. When Linsky ran in 1972 he was very popular in Brookline and had won town-wide elections against Democrats four times. Still, Drinan beat him in Brookline. "It's hard to believe that Mason will do better in Brookline than I did," Linsky says.
There's also not much of a chance that Mason can beat Drinan in the Catholic western part of the district. Even if he does beat Drinan in the west, it will have to be by a large margin to offset Drinan's power in Brookline and Newton.
With his huge appeal to liberals in the east and his record for attracting the Catholics in the west, Drinan should continue as Capitol Hill's resident Jesuit for another two years.
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