Massachusetts 4th District
The political transformation of Massachusetts is nowhere better illustrated than in the Boston suburbs of Brookline and Newton. These were Yankee enclaves a century ago, with avenues built to resemble the sweep of Haussmann’s Grand Boulevards in Paris and villages of giant clapboard houses clustered within a few blocks of commuter rail stations. Brookline was where the Country Club (the very first one) was established in 1882, and where Joseph Kennedy, an Irish Catholic 20-something banker seeking respectability, moved his family in 1914. Brookline and Newton then were solidly Republican in politics, the base of such leading politicians as Christian Herter, the governor of Massachusetts and U.S. secretary of State in the 1950s. As late as 1960, Brookline, Newton, and adjacent wards of Boston were electing a Republican to Congress. Then came the transformation, personified by the election in 1962 of Michael Dukakis at age 29 to the Great and General Court (the Legislature). As Massachusetts’ university-educated classes became more liberal, as Brookline’s and Newton’s Jewish populations grew, and as young, liberal-minded families refurbished the graceful old houses, these towns became Democratic bastions. Now there are an increasing number of Russian Jews and of Orthodox and Hasidic synagogues. Brookline and Newton are part of the liberal heart of Massachusetts. In recent presidential contests, they voted 73%-19% for Al Gore in 2000, 77%-22% for John Kerry in 2004, and 78%-21% for Barack Obama in 2008.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 4th Congressional District of Massachusetts includes Brookline and Newton. Anchoring the hook-like northern tip of the district, they account for less than one-quarter of the district’s votes. The shape results from successive redistrictings. New Bedford and Fall River are close to the ocean, and New Bedford is proud of the Greek revival architecture of its great whaling days, when it was one of the richest cities in the country. It stages a daylong reading of Moby Dick every January 3, the day that Ishmael and his friend Queequeg sailed out under the command of Captain Ahab. Today, it is home to many Portuguese-Americans, many of them fishermen, who haul in groundfish and scallops. Fall River was famous for years as the home of Lizzie Borden, who was suspected of killing her father and mother with an ax in 1892. New Bedford and Fall River have long been working-class Democratic enclaves. Connecting the two sets of Democratic cities, in a corridor sometimes only a mile wide, is a series of towns—Wellesley, Dover, Sherborn, Millis, Norfolk, and Sharon. There is a little of bit of everything here: the high-income and WASPy denizens of Wellesley, the French-Canadian mill workers of Fall River; the sports-loving residents of Foxborough with its Patriots football stadium; the Orthodox Jews of Sharon; and the countrified atmosphere of Dover. This is a very Democratic district, although a handful of the suburban towns voted for Republican Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey for governor in 2006 over Democrat Deval Patrick. Democratic presidential nominee Obama carried the district 63%-35%.