The 2010 Elections Over, the Real Barney Frank Returns

Frank ran campaign ads in which he presented himself as a nice, affable guy from New Jersey. He is not.

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Barney Frank is back.

The 70-year-old Democrat is not just back as a congressman, a title he kept Tuesday night with a convincing victory over GOP nominee Sean Bielat. Frank also made it clear during his victory speech that the irascible, arguably downright cranky person whose wit has both amused and devastated Washington political and media figures for decades is back in the saddle.

One might think that a 15-term congressman who had just beaten back the toughest challenge of his political career would be glowing, relieved, even actually happy. But except for the crawler on the bottom of the TV screen for those watching at home, it wasn’t immediately clear during Frank’s “victory” speech that he had, in fact, won. [See where Frank gets his campaign money.]

“I was very much disappointed in the tenor of the campaign,” Frank said in his opening remarks--before thanking people for supporting him and re-electing him to a 16th term. He bemoaned “the deteriorated nature of this campaign,” which, indeed, was often ugly and characterized by a level of dialogue Frank has made clear he does not tolerate.

[Check out our editorial cartoons on the 2010 campaigns.]

And he continued to slam other campaigns as well, noting that “the collective campaigns that were run by most Republicans were beneath the dignity of a democracy.” Yes, there were an awful lot of disgraceful campaigns and misleading ads out there. And it should be noted that one of the worst offenders was Florida Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson, whose “Taliban Dan” ad against opponent Daniel Webster was appalling in its out-of-context description of Webster’s comments on women. Grayson lost. [See where Grayson got this campaign money.]

But Frank won, which he still seemed to forget as he spoke to supporters.

He insisted on setting the record straight with Bielat, who had accused Frank of benefiting from a gerrymandered district. Yes, the district was gerrymandered, Frank acknowledged--but it was done in 1961 by a Republican governor to benefit a GOP candidate.

Then, Frank went after the tabloid Boston Herald, which had trumpeted any sign that Frank could lose the seat, including accusing Frank of being in a “panic” over his campaign.

Let me say that people will advise me to be more judicious, but with the election of all 10 Democratic congressmen, and Governor Patrick, one of the things we can acknowledge tonight is that [Massachusetts] has reaffirmed the complete political irrelevance of the Boston Herald. There was no limit to the bias and vitriol they unleashed, and it had no impact, so good for Massachusetts. The influence of Fox News does not in the end seem to have been very great either.

Bielat, for his part, was more gracious in defeat than some other candidates. He said Tuesday night that he had not yet called Frank. Frank, according to the Web site, was asked at his victory party if he had spoken to the loser in the race. “If he hasn’t called me to congratulate me, why else would he call me? To wish me a happy birthday?” Frank responded.

[ See photos of the Obamas behind the scenes.]

With an unusually tough fight this year, Frank ran campaign ads in which he presented himself as a nice, affable guy from New Jersey, a man who took over the family business when his father died and who is now eager to hear the concerns of constituents. Nice is not Frank’s strong suit; he’s widely regarded as one of the smartest--if not the most intelligent--member of the House, and he’s surely one of the wittiest. And while Frank didn’t look terribly happy at his own victory party, at least his supporters can be reassured that it was the real Barney they’re sending back to Washington.