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WASHINGTON--It's election time in Massachusetts again and while Evelyn Murphy engineers coups, John Silber angers Blacks and William F. Weld '66 launches a comeback, the only word for the congressional races is "sleepy."
The lack of excitement over the House races--11 in Massachusetts, has become customary in the Bay State if not nationwide as well.
Even the Republican challenge of Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), which promises to be a high-priced affair, may not be even close.
Of the 11 House races and one Senate seat there are just three contested primaries.
In central Massachusetts, Representative Richard Neal (D-Mass.), faces a challenge by former Springfield Mayor Ted Dimauro in a campaign notable for Dimauro's recent and false suggestion that the Bank of New England was recommended for liquidation.
Northwest of Boston, Republican state Representative John MacGovern is expected to defeat primary opponent Donal Colman and go on to challenge Representative Chester Atkins (D-Mass).
Two Republicans are vying for the right to challenge Kerry: Concord real estate developer James Rappaport and Hingham businessman Dan W. Daly '65.
Elsewhere the campaign battlefield is quiet. Compared to the feisty races for governor and other statewide seats, it promises to remain so.
In all, five of the 11 seats will be unopposed and it would be regarded as a stunning upset if any incumbents are defeated. Even Representative Barney Frank '61 (D-Mass.), who was reprimanded by the House for official actions on behalf of prostitute Stephen L. Gobie earlier this year, faces only a little-known Republican from Attleboro who has never held elective office and is barely recognized by his own party hierarchy.
"The party activity in Massachusetts is gubernatorial more than anything else," said Mark Nuttle, executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Barney Frank, Nuttle said, is a "national symbol" of Democratic liberalism. But he is also difficult to defeat.
"We're not doing much with it," Nuttle said of the Frank race. "Part of it is the district. It's not a great Republican district."
The absence of competition in the congressional races in Massachusetts is in part a reflection of the national trend toward incumbents being able to hold their seats indefinitely so long as they avoid ethical scandals. Fully 98 percent of congressional incumbents who seek re-election keep their seats.
The Democratic predominance of the Bay State also works in its favor, even this year, a time of public disenchantment with the status quo.
During non-presidential election years when a Republican has held the White House, the GOP has never in its history gained House seats. Democrats have only gained seats once in an off year in which they held the White House. That was in 1934 at the height of President Roosevelt's prewar popularity.
In addition to the national trends, there are simply fewer Republicans in Massachusetts and precious few in prominent, elected or public positions who could step into a congressional race and offer a credible challenge. Instead they tend to come from the private sector, like lawyer John Soto challenging Frank or businessmen Daly and Rappaport in the Senate race.
"For Republicans, the person who runs usually gives up a lot to run," Nuttle said. "The GOP doesn't have the bureaucratic farm club."
A run down the list of Democratic incumbents shows that there is nothing new about the phenomenon:
Second District: Incumbent Neal expected to defeat primary opponent Dimauro. No final election opponent. Michael Barone and Grant Ujifusa, authors of The Almanac of American Politics call this district "one of the safest of congressional seats."
Doug Sosnick, political director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said that since Dimaura's blunder over the Bank of New England, "I've taken that race off the screen."
.Third District: Representative Joseph Early, last opposed in 1984 when he won 67 percent of the vote. No challenger this year.
.Fourth District: Incumbent Frank expected to soundly defeat Soto. Won with 70 percent of the vote in 1988.
.Fifth District: Incumbent Atkins favored to defeat winner of GOP primary, most likely MacGovern. Atkins was unopposed in 1986 and won with 88 percent of the vote in 1988.
.Sixth District: Representative Nick Mavroules favored to defeat Boxford, Massachusetts, attorney Edgar Kelley. Mavroules faced his last tough challenge in 1982 when he won with 58 percent of the vote.
.Seventh District: Representative Edward Markey is unopposed for the third consecutive election.
.Eighth District: Representative Joseph P. Kennedy II faces Republican challenger Glenn Fiscus. Kennedy garnered 80 percent of the vote in 1988 when Fiscus challenged him for the first time.
.Ninth District: Representative Joseph Moakley is unopposed for the second consecutive election. His seat has been safe since he defeated Louise Day Hicks in 1972.
.Tenth District: Representative Gerry Studds faces a challenge for the second time from USAir pilot and Bridgewater State College faculty member Jon Bryan. While Bryan is drawing some support from the national Republican Party, Studds defeated him in 1988 with 67 percent of the vote.
.Eleventh District Representative Brian Donnelly is unopposed this year as he was in 1986. He sailed in two years ago with 88 percent of the vote.
"Maybe they feel this is the year to put all their ammunition in the statewide races where they probably feel they've got a better shot," Moakley said. "They've only got so many people and so much money."
The delegation's lone Republican, Representative Silvio Conte, is living proof that, at least, the incumbent theory works in both directions.
Conte faces a challenge by John R. Arden but is likely to be around for a 17th term, continuing his role as the dean of the state delegation.
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