US House Race Sizzles in Bay State Western District Voters Have Clear Choice between Liberal Democrat, Conservative Republican. MASSACHUSETTS ELECTION

Article excerpt

NINETY-degree spring temperatures have only added to the political heat of a tightly contested special congressional election here in western Massachusetts.

Two ideological opposites - liberal Democrat John Olver and conservative Republican Steven Pierce - are sweating out the last few days of the race to succeed the late United States Rep. Silvio Conte (R). Tuesday's election will be held in the state's First Congressional District.

"You've got two classic vehicles here. You've got a classic liberal and a classic conservative," says Lou DiNatale, senior fellow at the McCormack Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.

The distinctions are sharp: Mr. Pierce, a former minority leader in the State House of Representatives, blames his opponent for the liberal "tax and spend" policies that he says led to the state's current fiscal crisis. Olver is pro-choice

State Sen. John Olver, on the other hand, cites his pro-choice position on abortion and strong voting record on funding social programs. He says his opponent is "out of touch" with the voters.

Pierce has focused his campaign on his fiscal conservatism, with high priority on providing jobs and keeping taxes down. "I was brought up to understand you can't spend what you don't have," he said in a recent debate. Western Massachusetts has been hard hit by the recession, he says, with unemployment as high as 15 percent in some areas.

The former state congressman from Westfield served 12 years in the Massachusetts House, the last three as minority leader. After an unsuccessful run for governor last fall, he was appointed as the state secretary of communities and development early this year but resigned to run for Congress.

Senator Olver, whose home is in Amherst, is a former college professor who has served as a state senator since 1972. He is chairman of the Joint Committee on Taxation and a member of the Senate Ways and Means committee. He has supported the same social service and education programs as the moderate Republican Conte.

"I want to invest in people again, in housing, in education, in health care. I want to defend our civil rights, and a woman's right to choose," Olver says.

Pierce has the advantage of Washington connections. Last week, President Bush made a campaign appearance with him in Boston. Silvio Conte's wife, Corinne, and US Sen. Robert Dole (R) of Kansas are also campaigning for Pierce. …