NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) - U.S. Rep. Barney Frank is facing what may be the toughest re-election fight of his 30-year career as he holds onto a double-digit lead over Republican challenger Sean Bielat, our exclusive WPRI 12 poll shows.
The survey of 400 likely voters in Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional District finds Democrat Frank backed by 49 percent of voters and Bielat supported by 37 percent, with 12 percent still undecided less than two weeks before Election Day.
“Barney Frank is holding a 12-point lead, and in a tough election year for Democrats that’s a comfortable lead going into the final two weeks of the election,” Eyewitness News political analyst Joe Fleming said. “It all depends on if Sean Bielat can grab some momentum to close that gap.”
The telephone poll was conducted last Thursday through Sunday by Fleming & Associates of Cumberland, R.I. The survey had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus approximately 5 percentage points. It’s the only independent poll done so far in a race that’s getting national attention.
The results come the same day Frank disclosed that his campaign war chest shrank from $1.1 million to $649,560 in the first two weeks of October as he spent heavily on advertising to counter Bielat. The Republican had $364,664 on hand as of Sept. 30 and hadn’t reported new numbers as of midday Thursday.
'Still an opportunity' for Bielat
While Frank would prefer to have a bigger lead, “he’s right at that 50 percent mark – he doesn’t need to pick up an awful lot to win re-election,” Fleming said. “He needs to hold onto his base and expand a little bit.”
“However,” he added, “it’s not such a big lead that Barney Frank can take anything for granted. There’s still an opportunity for Sean Bielat to make his case.”
Both men are doing well among members of their respective parties, with Frank backed by 80 percent of Democrats and Bielat by 92 percent of Republicans. “Barney’s got a real strong base there, and that’s really propelling him right now” in the heavily Democratic 4th, Fleming said.
Among independents, Bielat is beating Frank by 44 percent to 35 percent, with another 17 percent still undecided. But Bielat will need to win unaffiliated voters by a much bigger margin in order to defeat Frank, Fleming said.
Frank is running strongly among women, at 55 percent, and voters ages 60 and older, at 54 percent, and he is ahead of Bielat among all age groups. Bielat has a slim two-point advantage among male voters, winning 45 percent of men to Frank’s 43 percent.
Momentum key in final weeks
Campaigns can take off in the last two weeks if they gather enough momentum, and that’s what Bielat will need to do if he wants to win, Fleming said. “Scott Brown did that in his race, and it propelled him to victory,” he said, referring to the Massachusetts Republican’s upset U.S. Senate victory last winter.
In a signal the contest could become more competitive, the nonpartisan Washington, D.C.-based Cook Political Report changed its rating on the Frank-Bielat matchup from “solid Democratic” to “likely Democratic” earlier this month.
WPRI has offered to host a prime-time debate between Frank and Bielat focused on issues of concern to voters in Bristol County, Mass. Both campaigns originally agreed in principle to participate, but Frank’s campaign later changed its mind, citing scheduling issues.
Our poll also finds 50 percent of 4th District voters rate Frank’s job performance positive and 47 percent rate it negatively. Democrats, women and voters over the age of 60 gave Frank his most favorable marks.
In recent weeks, Bielat, 35, has assailed Frank, 70, for his failure to foresee the eventual collapse of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two government-sponsored mortgage purchasers that collapsed in 2008. Frank has emphasized Bielat’s support for changing Social Security by raising the retirement age or partially privatizing it.
Brown, Kerry equally popular
In addition to testing 4th District voters’ preferences in the Frank-Bielat race, our WPRI 12 poll also asked them how they felt about current officeholders and the financial crisis.
President Barack Obama’s favorable rating stands at exactly 50 percent in the 4th District, while his unfavorable rating is at 49 percent. Two-thirds of independent voters give the president a negative job rating.
U.S. Sens. Brown and John Kerry, D-Mass., have basically identical favorable job ratings – 47 percent for Brown and 46 percent for Kerry. But Kerry’s 49 percent negative job rating is a bit higher than Brown’s, which is 42 percent.
Brown is more popular than Kerry among independents, with 58 percent giving Brown a favorable job rating against 36 percent who the same of Kerry. Male voters rate Brown more favorably than Kerry, while female voters say the reverse.
Voters were also asked who they blamed for the financial crisis: Congress, Wall Street or both.
Bankers came out worst, with 35 percent blaming Wall Street alone and 37 percent