Cong. William Delahunt describes himself as an eternal optimist. Still, his optimism comes easier now than it did four years ago.
Opposition to the agenda of President Bush and, in particular, his Iraq war were not so popular back then. Today he finds himself on the right side of history and the popular mood.
"I remember standing on a stage of a middle school in Falmouth, and without relying on polls or knowing what the reaction would be, announcing that I was not going to be voting for the [Iraq] war resolution," he said.
"Because it was clear to me at that point in time that there was no relationship with Al-Qaeda or weapons of mass destruction and that we would find ourselves in a quagmire . . . and I was right."
Mr. Delahunt, who is running for a sixth term in the 10th congressional district, made a quick campaign swing through the Vineyard this week. Confident at the outcome of his own race (he is predicted to beat his chief opponent Jeff Beatty by a wide margin), he was also feeling upbeat about the prospects for the Democrats on Nov. 7. And in an interview at the Gazette he took a moment to raise his coffee cup in memory of his late friend and predecessor Gerry E. Studds, who died Oct. 14.
"To Gerry, I know we are going to regain the majority," he smiled.
His certainty about holding his own seat - and the 15-fold fund raising advantage he has over his Republican opponent - is such that he has spent much of the election run-up supporting other candidates in more closely contested seats.
"I'm spending a couple of hundred thousand [on his own campaign], and sending lots of money elsewhere, to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, to [other] races," he said, noting that he had just raised $40,000 for Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat who lost her legs in Iraq and is a strong contender for a seat held for more than three decades by Republican Henry Hyde, who is retiring.
Ten years into the job, Mr. Delahunt speaks with pride about his record, including his work as cochairman of the Coast Guard caucus. He noted that when he first began, the budget for the Coast Guard was under $4 billion, and is now nearly $9 billion.
But like most Democrats these days, he prefers to talk about the other guys.
"These are not good times for the country," he said, "either at home or abroad. Our prestige is at its nadir - and that comes from polling data. And it's not just the Islamic world, it's the U.K., Ireland the Spanish, the Germans, the Canadians." He continued:
"The [Republican] mantra is that our economy is really humming. Well it is for some. The reality is that for six years, median income has gone down by five and a half per cent. Tuition bills are up 40 per cent, health care costs are up 55 per cent, energy costs are up over 100 per cent. Does anybody have a pension left? Has the value of your home gone up or down?
"You have a deficit of $3 trillion, that represents a turnaround of $8.5 trillion. There is a sense of ‘Who are they kidding? My life and my family are not better off.' "
Warming to his anti-administration theme, he fished in his briefcase and began reading aloud from a collection of quotes from senior military figures critical of the war, including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
The mood among voters? "Angst, uncertainty, distrust, disbelief," he said.
So where does the eternal optimist find cause for optimism in this litany of negativity, particularly given his assertion that whatever happens in the election, neither party will have a strong working majority?
It comes, he said, from his sense that even on the other side of the House, traditional conservatives are realizing the need to put down the swords and work on bipartisan initiatives.
"We need to sit down and say okay, how are we going to address global warming, how do we get ourselves out of that mess in the Middle East, how are we going to reduce the inequality that exists in our economy, et cetera."
His optimism, however, does not extend to the Cape Wind project. Although he was encouraged by the transfer of regulatory authority from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to Minerals Management Service, he said enough changes have been made to the project, including the recent announcement that the size of the turbines would increase - to require a new start.
"I really do think that the process should go right back to the beginning, and a thorough review should be conducted as lawyers would say, ab initium,' " he said.
In any case, he predicted that whether a permit for the wind farm is finally issued or not, subsequent litigation is likely to go on for years. Meanwhile, technology will emerge that will enable deep water turbines, obviating the need for a wind farm in Nantucket Sound.
Not that he is opposed to wind power. He cited the example of the town of Hull, where two land-based turbines are now in place, with plans for four more, enough in total to provide all the town's power needs - at 12 cents per kilowatt hour.
Mr. Delahunt called Hull a potential model for other community-based energy projects, including on the Vineyard.
But the energy issue that really has his attention now is ethanol.
The alternative fuel, produced from vegetable matter such as sugar, corn or other forms of plant cellulose, has the capacity to replace up to 85 per cent of petroleum, Mr. Delahunt said.
"Ethanol is the closest thing we've found to a silver bullet. Even if you account for the energy required to produce ethanol, there is a reduction in the neighborhood of 30 per cent in carbon emissions," he enthused, calling it the quickest and so far best solution to the problem of reliance on oil from volatile regions of the world - turning instead to the farms of the Midwest for fuel.
On top of that, he said, for the additional cost of $38, cars can be made to run on either traditional gas or ethanol.
His enthusiasm for the topic has bubbled into a vision for what he is calling an "energy independence corridor," starting on Route 3 in Quincy and running down to Cape Cod and the Islands. He said the key is enlisting service stations to sign on to the cause, and ideally he would put a flex-fuel converter in every new car, even if it involved government subsidies.
That prospect, of course, is some way off, but the optimist had a quick retort for those who would question the cost.
"Please," he said, "we're spending about $2.5 billion a week in Iraq."