Posted on | December 1, 2011 | 15 Comments
In 2010, Republican Sean Bielat gave Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank the toughest re-election challenge the Democrat had ever experienced. Although Bielat’s insurgent Tea Party-backed campaign fell short of unseating Frank, it was obviously a factor in the 16-term congressman’s decision this week to retire at the end of his current term, rather than seek re-election in a newly redrawn district. Thursday night, Bielat spoke to me in a brief telephone interview.
Robert Stacy McCain: So, this is the week of ‘Bye Bye Barney.’ How are you feeling right now?
Sean Bielat: [Laughs.] Well, you know, if you would have asked me a year ago at this time, I would have said that this was exactly what was going to happen. And then, you know, when he came out February and said, ‘I’m definitely running . . . definitely going to be back in this thing,’ I took it with a grain of salt, but I believed it. So he definitely caught me off-guard [by announcing his retirement Monday].
RSM: He’s saying that it’s mainly about the re-districting. Have you taken a good look at that map?
BIELAT: Yeah, I have. It is a much better district.
RSM: You mean, for a Republican?
BIELAT: Yeah. It’s still overwhelmingly Democrat, but it’s a much better district than before. But implicit in that comment – ‘it’s because of re-districting’ – is the fact that he thinks he’s going to have a competitive opponent, right? Because he’s been re-districted before and not retired. The difference is, he had a challenge last time. Now it’s a new district and I think he just wasn’t sure he’d make it through and it wasn’t worth the effort.
RSM: OK. And are you taking a victory lap? I mean, do you believe that your challenge last year convinced him that it was time to pack it in?
BIELAT: I’m also taking that with a grain of salt. I don’t think he would have retired if I hadn’t run against him, but I also don’t think he’s retiring because I did.
He, on Election Day [in 2010], thought he was going to lose. We were told that by a number of the reporters who were following him and who were in his van – they thought they were going to lose. And you saw he put a couple hundred thousand dollars of his own money it, you know. I don’t think he enjoyed this experience. He hadn’t really done this since 1982. I don’t think he enjoyed the eight debates. I think he was worn out. And I think he didn’t want to do it again, particularly if the district was going to be more favorable to his opponent.
RSM: And is there a chance that that opponent might be you?
BIELAT: [Laughs.] Well, there’s no chance it will be me against Barney, but there’s definitely a chance that it will be me against whatever Democrat they’re going to put up in the Fourth [District]. I’m looking very hard at it. Poltically, I think it makes a lot of sense. We’re just trying to figure out personally if it’s what we want right now, with the new baby and the other 15-month-old and, you know, the sacrifices involved in running. But I’m definitely very interested in it.
RSM: You’ve got two children?
BIELAT: Yeah, we just had the second one about two-and-a-half weeks ago.
RSM: Wow. And I understand that you were spending some time in Pennsylvania and some people were trying to lay the ‘carpetbagger’ thing on you.
BIELAT: Yeah, I think it’s tough to do when we only came [to Pennysylvania] in September and the reason I came was because we had family in the area and we had some difficulties the last time around, with the last pregnancy. So we wanted to be here in case that happened again. We’re planning to go back [to Massachusetts] after the holidays. Hope is still a student at Boston University. She took the semester off. She’ll be back in the spring semester. . . . It’s just the circumstance – we wanted to be near family because of the baby.
RSM: OK, and last time around, the Internet fundraising and the support of New Media seemed to really kick your campaign into high gear.
BIELAT: Oh, without a doubt. I mean, one of the most important people for me to get back on the team is [New Media consultant] John La Rosa. I mean, our money came from online. Fox News was huge, too. Every time we went on Fox News, the money would come in, too. But it was because the groundwork was there, because went on the blogs. It was all over the Internet – the Tweets were out there, and Facebook was useful as well.
So it was huge, and then there was the ‘Dancing Barney’ video [by filmmaker Ladd Ehlinger Jr.] and the incident with [Barney Frank’s] significant other, where he was heckling me – that was huge. I can’t tell you how many people came up to me about that, or said, ‘I sent you a contribution after I saw that.’ That wouldn’t have gotten out there without the New Media channels.
RSM: So that really made a difference. What would be the timetable, if you did decide to run? When would you be thinking about putting something together again?
BIELAT: I want to make a decision next week. You know there’s a number of other Republicans who are calling me to find out my plans, because if I’m not getting in, they may want to get in. So I certainly don’t want to slow them down and, you know, I don’t want to be in limbo myself. If I end up not doing this, I’m going to be working on the [political action committee] – I’d like to kick that off and start doing some good there. So I want to make this decision fairly soon.
RSM: OK, so you say, within a week?
BIELAT: Yeah. That’s the plan.
RSM: Wow. OK, then. So if we’re going to be scrambling the jets, we’re going to be scrambling the jets in a pretty quick hurry here.
BIELAT: Yeah. I mean, if I’m going to get in, I want to raise money this quarter. And if I’m going to raise money in December, when the holidays are coming up, I’ve got to do it right at the beginning. So that means making my decision right away.