Frank Boyle: The Donegal man ‘who beat Bill Clinton’

Newly elected US congressman pays tribute to Irish father who figured in his campaign

In a victory speech on Tuesday night after his election to the House of Representatives, Brendan Boyle thanked his Donegal-born father for his support, describing him as "the man who beat Bill Clinton".

The Pennsvylania state representative was elected to the US Congress with two-thirds of the vote on a campaign that featured his father's working life as a cleaner on Philadelphia's transit system.

Mr Boyle defeated high-profile Democratic challenger, former congresswoman Marjorie Margolies, in a May primary election. She was backed by her daughter-in-law's father, former president Bill Clinton who came to Philadelphia to help raise campaign funds for her at a $1,000-a-ticket hors d-oeuvres reception.

"This race is not about Bill Clinton; it's about Frank Boyle and it's about the millions of others like him who need a champion in Washington," Mr Boyle said in a campaign debate last April.


The message resonated with voters in the Democratic stronghold of Pennsylvania’s 13th District who enjoyed meeting Boyle on the campaign trail. He changed his working hours to 5.30am starts on the north-south Orange subway line so he could canvass in the evenings.

Bill Clinton himself called Boyle after his primary win to tell him how much he admired his campaign and how it brought in his father.

“He is very excited and very proud,” Brendan said of his father’s reaction to his election to Congress. “I caught him choking back a couple of tears last night. Towards the end of my speech, I had a special section about him. I described him as the man who beat Bill Clinton and the whole crowd laughed at that, and he smiled.”

His election marks the end of a 18-month campaign, which highlighted the income gap between America’s wealthy and the working class, a common theme for Democrats in these midterm elections.

“It is a great feeling for me as his son to see a man who has worked hard his entire life to get the sort of attention he is getting because he is such a good and humble person that it makes me winning all the sweeter,” said Brendan.

Boyle’s younger brother Kevin, speaker of Pennsylvania’s House, also won re-election in Tuesday’s ballot. The two were the only brothers to serve together in the 332-year history of the state assembly.

He was as surprised as other Democrats at the scale of the losses to Republicans in senate, house and governor races in the midterms.

In Pennsylvania’s State House, which Mr Boyle is leaving for national House in Washington, Democrats lost seats when they were expected to gain some, falling to their lowest level in a century.

“The fact that we were able to win by two to one on the night when others lost theirs seats just makes me feel all the more grateful,” he said.

Mr Boyle said he received congratulatory calls from Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi and the party's newly elected governor for Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf.

He has also received many messages of support from Ireland and his father's ancestral home in Donegal, which he last visited in 2011 for his brother's wedding. He has another family wedding in Co Mayo in 2016 but hopes to return to see family and friends next year.

"I have not had the opportunity to get back even to the fraction of the ton of text messages, emails and Facebook messages," he said.

“Quite a few have come from all over Ireland and some are from people saying that they live in south-west Donegal and that they were following the election.”

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent