SAUGUS — With the outcome of the 6th District congressional race hanging in the balance, Republican Richard Tisei made last-minute campaign stops to galvanize support across the region on Tuesday.
Tisei, who ran unsuccessfully for the seat in 2012, faces Democrat Seth Moulton, an Iraq War veteran, and independent candidate Chris Stockwell in the race to succeed nine-term Congressman John Tierney, who was ousted in the Sept. 9 Democratic primary.
Recent polls have shown a tight race between Tisei and Moulton, with Stockwell trailing. Tisei said he was optimistic the outcome will go his way in one of the most closely watched contests in the country.
“I really feel like the momentum is on my side,” he said in an interview Tuesday night. “There are a lot of people out there who really want change. And they’re not just looking for a fresh face, they want someone to go to Washington and change the direction of the country.”
After casting his ballot at the Crystal Community Club in Wakefield Tuesday morning, Tisei greeted patrons at Bill & Bob’s Roast Beef in Peabody and later visited a polling station at the Lynnhurst Elementary School in Saugus. He also spent time campaigning in Lynn and Burlington.
Meanwhile, his supporters are beginning to gather at the Kowloon restaurant on Route 1 in Saugus to watch election results when the polls close at 8 p.m.
On the campaign trail, Tisei has portrayed himself as a fiscally conservative and socially moderate Republican. He has touted his 26 years as a Beacon Hill lawmaker, including a stint as the state Senate's minority leader, and his business experience as a Realtor and co-owner of a Lynnfield-based real estate company.
He has talked about fixing the problem-plagued federal Affordable Care Act, reforming the federal tax code and pushing for tax breaks for small businesses and middle-class families. He opposes amnesty for illegal immigrants and said he wants to secure the nation’s borders and toughen immigration law.
Tisei's moderate stance on social issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion appeals to voters like Nancy Williams, 32, of Lynn.
"The Republican Party has lost its way," she said, emerging from a polling site at North Shore Community College after casting her ballot on Tuesday. "We need more moderates like him in Congress."
For Mike Capon, a Tisei supporter from Swampscott, the race is a choice between an "experienced legislator" and a "John Tierney clone" who will "vote with Nancy Pelosi."
"We need someone who isn't going to vote lock-and-step with the Democrats," he said. "There's too much bickering in Washington."
While control of the Senate hangs in the balance in Tuesday’s election, Republicans are expected to expand their 35-seat advantage in the House of Representatives, and a Tisei win could help the party pick up more seats.
Republican-backed super PACs have pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into Tisei's campaign - a fraction of more than $4.1 million spent by independent expenditure groups in the race. That doesn’t include more than $4.3 million raised between both candidates in the past year of campaigning.
The contest is the state's most expensive congressional race.
If elected, Tisei would be the first openly gay Republican to win a seat in Congress, where there are now six gay members -- five in the House and one in the Senate – all of them Democrats.
The last openly gay Republican to serve in Congress was Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona, who revealed his sexual orientation after getting elected. He retired in 2006.
The 6th Congressional district — which includes most of Essex County and eight towns in Middlesex — has about 640,000 voters, according to Secretary of State William Galvin's office, nearly 60 percent of whom are registered as independent.
Democrats have held the Congressional seat since 1996, when Tierney narrowly beat incumbent Republican Peter Torkildsen. Prior to that, the seat went back and forth between Republicans and Democrats over the years.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @cmwade1969