It’s not the foliage that looks a little bit more red this season. The new congressional maps put out today create a new district on the South Coast, Cape and Islands-the very heart of Cranberry Country. Democrat Bill Keating is moving into his home in Bourne and will contest the district, avoiding a divisive primary fight with Stephen Lynch in the new MA-08. But will he encounter a few obstacles.
Keating lost the heart of the new district, Plymouth, to Jeff Perry, who also did very well on the Cape and in Kingston, Marshfield, and Norwell–all of which remain in the new district. He overwhelmed Perry in his base of support, Quincy. And now the City of Presidents belongs to Stephen Lynch. He is gaining parts of the South Coast–Middleborough and Wareham over to Fall River. The South Coast cities of New Bedford and Fall River will be hospitable to him, perhaps replacing Quincy as his new Democratic base of support. The small towns on the Coast are less hospitable. But Keating has shown a willingness to work his district hard and I’d expect him to be quite a presence in the new district very soon.
The first question is whether the South Coast cities or the Cape produce a Democratic challenger. Rob O’Leary outpaced Keating on the Cape and Keating only barely beat him in Plymouth. South Coast Democratic pols might also view this as the moment to launch an intra party skirmish from their base of support.
Two words are likely to keep them from doing so: Scott Brown. Brown needs to continue a high level of support in Cranberry Country to beat back the Democratic challenge. A divisive primary between an incumbent member and high-profile challengers will energize the GOP here and has the potential to keep some Democrats from voting for the eventual congressional nominee. Look for signs from the DCCC and the Warren camp that they do not want any division from the new MA-09 Democrats. They will very publicly urge local Democrats to rally behind Keating.
The second challenge to Keating is from the GOP. There are a number of popular Republican state representatives from this part of the state who might view this as an opportune time to take on an incumbent. While Keating is still getting to know his district, they already call it home and this is the most likely shot they have at gaining a foothold. A party wide effort with Scott Brown leading the charge might just pay off–particularly if the economy remains rather stagnant Obama somewhat unpopular. Again, the real threat of a strong Republican challenger (look to the locally popular State Representatives and Sheriffs) will ensure that DC Democrats do all they can to keep other Dems out of the primary race.
The stakes are high. Massachusetts voters rarely turn out incumbent members of Congress. If Keating wins over this new district in 2012, he’s likely to keep it as long as he likes. If challengers don’t strike now, they are not likely to get a better shot in future.