With eight months still to go before the ballots are counted, the 6th District congressional race is getting feisty.
After multiple attacks about his wife's legal problems, including the launching of a website devoted to the topic, Congressman John Tierney fired back last week at his Republican opponent, Richard Tisei, and the National Republican Congressional Committee.
"Richard Tisei has said over and over again that he will not make my wife an issue in his political campaign. Today, he should prove that he is a man of his word and call on his friends at the National Republican Campaign Committee to take down the slanderous and distracting website they recently launched to attack my wife," Tierney said in a prepared campaign statement.
"Richard Tisei and I have real disagreements on the issues that matter to families in this district — jobs, the economy, women's rights," Tierney added. "That is what we should be debating."
The website, howcouldtierneynotknow.com, was launched earlier this month by the National Republican Congressional Committee. It details the legal case against Tierney's wife, Patrice, who pleaded guilty in 2010 to aiding and abetting her brother, Robert Eremian, in filing false income tax returns that concealed the true source of his money in illegal offshore gambling. Prosecutors said Mrs. Tierney managed bank accounts that her brother, now a fugitive, used to send money from Antigua to support his estranged wife and family.
She served 30 days in federal prison camp.
Another brother, Daniel Eremian, was recently found guilty of racketeering, operating an illegal gambling business and wire act offenses.
Tierney has said repeatedly that he didn't know his brothers-in-law were involved in illegal gambling.
His opponents find that hard to believe.
"The idea that John Tierney's family could operate a massive illegal gambling empire without his knowledge is a contorted tale that stretches reality and common sense," Paul Lindsay, communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in a statement launching the website earlier this month.
"What planet does John Tierney think the voters of Massachusetts live on that they would believe that he was so utterly oblivious to the troubling ethical cloud that surrounds him?"
The NRCC redoubled its efforts last week, firing off a reported 250,000 text messages to voters across the district with a simple message: "Congressman John Tierney claims ignorance to his family's illegal gambling empire. What else is happening on his watch?"
Tierney said that the facts speak for themselves and called Tisei's and the Republican committee's claims, "a tortured mischaracterization of both the fact and the law."
The website and text-message campaign "fly in the face of the Republican-appointed federal judge who expressly said that I was not involved in 'any way, shape or form,'" Tierney said.
"My wife never believed that her family would put her in harm's way, and she has ended up paying a terrible price," he added. "Richard Tisei should stop hiding behind his henchmen in Washington, D.C., and stand on his own two feet."
Tisei, a Republican from Wakefield, is the former minority leader in the state Senate and ran an unsuccessful campaign for lieutenant governor in 2010. He did not return a phone call yesterday seeking comment.
News of Patrice Tierney's legal problems surfaced just a month before the 2010 election, but Tierney still handily beat Republican challenger and Boxford attorney Bill Hudak.
Since first winning the 6th District seat in 1996 by only 360 votes, Tierney has consistently coasted to easy re-election victories in 2004, 2006 and 2008.
This time, however, the national Republican Party seems to smell blood and has ramped up efforts to unseat the incumbent and end a 13-year drought of Republican congressmen from Massachusetts.