By Morgan Kelly, Standard-Times correspondent Posted Apr. 25, 2004 @ 12:01 am Updated Jan 13, 2011 at 8:31 AM
WASHINGTON -- On his last day in the capital Chuck Morse who is running against Massachusetts Democrat Rep. Barney Frank as an independent seemed pleased and content that he had gotten everything Washington had to offer political contacts and financial support.
Considering the poor attendance at a fund-raiser for him the night before and the daunting task ahead of him Mr. Morse is probably a bit of an optimist.
A talk-show host at WROL-AM in Boston Mr. Morse is confident that he will appeal to voters in Southeastern Massachusetts yet admits that he is a political novice taking on an entrenched leader of the Democratic Party.
"This is a David versus Goliath race. Everybody knows that" he said.
Mr. Morse said he wants lower taxes for businesses and does not believe gays should be allowed to marry. "It's not a matter of belief it's a matter of observation" he said but added that if a gay couple has children they should have access to the insurance and custody rights of straight couples. Although he was against the Vietnam War he believes Iraq was invaded for the right reasons but he admits that it is a "big mess."
At his Washington fund-raiser April — hosted by the Traditional Values Coalition a Christian political group Mr. Morse explained that he is running because it's time Rep. Frank had a "vigorous opponent."
Held in a townhouse a few blocks from the Capitol only two people braved the rain to attend One was Martin Waugh a medical consultant for the Christian Seniors Association and the other was James Lafferty the coalition's consultant who worked in the Reagan administration.
Mr. Morse was not distressed. He spent the day meeting people. "I'm in the friend-making business down here" he said. The next day he said with some sense of relief "A lot of people e-mailed me saying they couldn't make it because of the rain but they're still willing to help."
Mr. Lafferty met Mr. Morse in 2002 when he came to Massachusetts pushing for a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. At that time he appeared on Mr. Morse's radio talk-show and said he liked him immediately.
"When people know Chuck is running against Barney Frank they like him" Mr. Lafferty said "and when they hear what he says they like him even more."
Even though Mr. Morse holds a position that is not traditionally conservative it doesn't seem to bother his supporters.
Mr. Morse personally opposes abortion but he said "it shouldn't be banned. That's not practical. ... It should be an informed choice." Mr. Waugh was initially surprised to hear such an answer from a conservative but later said "He was great. Very fluent and in form; he didn't back down from his position at all."
"I'm less conservative than I thought I was" Mr. Morse said laughing. "Obviously as a talk-show host you have to be a little more bombastic. You say things you wouldn't as a politician but I still stand behind them" he said later.
Mr. Morse comes off as more than just a savvy talk-show host; he seems to know what he's talking about. Although his only college education is an expository writing course he took at Harvard Extension School Mr. Morse said "My eight years of broadcasting and interviewing professors and intellectuals qualifies as my college education."
Although he's a registered Republican Mr. Morse 47 who grew up in Quincy and now lives in Brookline with his wife and daughter was once a Democrat. He explained that he and his wife "are the kind of Democrats" who have secretly voted Republican since President Reagan. But he and his wife didn't register Republican until he decided to run for office.
"My family they're all Democrats but the party left me a long time ago" he said. "I kept a Democratic label out of cultural reasons" he said.
Ben Kilgore 54 Mr. Morse's campaign manager and a former Boston Globe reporter is also an ex-Democrat. He served for seven years as deputy press secretary to Boston Mayor Kevin White. Their shared disillusionment with the Democratic Party is what brought them together seven months ago.
As Mr. Kilgore explained he read an article by Mr. Morse entitled "We Can Pay for the War in Iraq" in which he says that Congress can pay for reconstruction by scaling back the federal bureaucracy.
"I thought ' God in the name of public policy we can get him as a responsible candidate'" Mr. Kilgore said. The former reporter who runs a small public relations firm in Groton Mass. approached Mr. Morse last October about running.
Mr. Morse said he doesn't personally dislike Rep. Frank. "He's an articulate and passionate spokesman for the causes he represents but I think those causes are wrong" said Mr. Morse mentioning Rep. Frank's support of increased taxes on businesses.
But Mr. Morse's campaign obviously appeals to conservatives who would like nothing better than to defeat one of the most liberal Democrats in Congress. During his visit to Washington Mr. Morse attended a party hosted by World Net Daily a conservative online newspaper that publishes some of his articles and Citizens United a conservative political group. Attending were a number of high-profile conservatives who offered to help with his campaign.
After the party Mr. Morse was beaming over his reception. "People are just getting to meet me but yeah I like to think a lot of people would like to see Barney Frank beaten" he said. "That's part of what any candidate does is try to get support."
The next day Mr. Morse was still talking about the party. He and Mr. Kilgore seemed to be reinforced in their optimism about their chances.
"For anybody stepping into (this race) it's not easy to tell people how you're going to win" Mr. Morse said. "That's what I'm here to do teach people the dynamics of politics in Massachusetts."
Mr. Kilgore called the campaign "exceedingly unconventional" but said "I have high hopes for it nonetheless."
The two men's chemistry makes their effort seem more like small talk between old friends than an organized political campaign. They seem to be in sync feeding off each other's thoughts and reining in each other's words.
When Mr. Morse started talking about terrorism at great length Mr. Kilgore interrupted him "This is all on terrorism. Press secretary is intervening." Mr. Morse sat back and put his hands in his lap with a restive "All right all right."
Mr. Morse in turn keeps Mr. Kilgore from saying things they both might later regret. Midway through a rant on Rep. Frank Mr. Kilgore said "I don't know if I should say this" to which Mr. Morse quipped "Then don't."
Despite their casual demeanor they know they have a tough job ahead of them. Since winning his first race for Congress in 1980 Rep. Frank has never received less than 60 percent of the vote and that was in 1982. His worst showing in the last decade was 72 percent in 1996. Two years ago he ran unopposed and so far this year the Republicans have yet to field a candidate to run against him.
"In our lighter moments we call this Ben and Chuck's Excellent Adventure" Mr. Kilgore said. "We plan to have fun at this but also play for keeps."
"I like that Ben" Mr. Morse said. "That's a great quote."
This story appeared on Page B1 of The Standard-Times on April 25 2004