U.S. Rep. John Tierney may be asking voters to send him back to Congress for a ninth term.
But his recent pitch has been as much about supporting the Democratic agenda as it has about giving him another two years to represent Lynn, Peabody, Gloucester and other communities in the 6th Congressional district.
“John Tierney’s race is an essential part of the Democrats taking a majority in the House,” Maryland Democrat Chris Van Hollen said during a conference call with Tierney set up by the Salem Democrat’s campaign.
Trailing in at least one new poll to Republican Richard Tisei, Tierney challenged his opponent’s claims at bipartisanship on Monday and said voting for Tisei would be an endorsement of the Republican “right-wing” agenda that will hurt seniors and the middle class.
“He has not had that much of a non-partisan record in the state Senate,” Tierney told reporters on the call.
Tisei, who served in the Legislature for 26 years, rebutted that charge and called Tierney a “rubber stamp” for Democratic leadership in Washington with little to show for his time in office.
“It’s all scare tactics. The congressman is desperate and his campaign is pretty much imploding and he has nothing left except to try to scare people,” Tisei told the News Service.
Next to the U.S. Senate race between U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren, the contest between Tierney is Tisei is one of the most closely watched races locally and nationally.
Van Hollen, the ranking minority member of the House budget committee, joined Tierney to criticize Tisei, the former state Senate minority leader, for what they described as his support of a Republican budget plan that both men said would increase premiums and co-pays for seniors living on Medicare and hurt the middle class.
Van Hollen and Tierney repeatedly stressed that Tisei’s first vote in Congress would be to install a Republican leadership team that currently includes Rep. Paul Ryan and Rep. Eric Cantor, whose budget plans they said would also take money out of education and infrastructure needed to stimulate the economy.
“Because of their fixation on providing another round of tax breaks to very wealthy individuals their budget hits everyone else much harder,” Van Hollen said.
Tisei, however, said he would not support Ryan’s budget proposal, which has twice passed the House, but called it a starting point for a conversation about taxes and spending, an opinion he also holds toward the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles report. “He’s being dishonest by saying that. The problem in Washington is nobody talks,” Tisei said.
Tisei also rebutted Tierney’s criticism that he didn’t work with Democrats while in the state Senate, pointing to his efforts with Democratic leadership to preserve gay marriage, his support for buffer zones around abortion clinics and access to emergency contraception, and his 46 percent voting record in favor of overturning former Gov. Mitt Romney’s budget vetoes during his time as governor.
A Boston Globe/University of New Hampshire poll released Monday showed Tisei leading Tierney by a six-point margin, 37-31, with a high percentage of voters, 30 percent, still undecided. Tierney challenged the poll results, suggesting the survey oversampled Republicans and did not account for the third-party candidate in the race.
“I think we’ve always known this race was going to be competitive and I think the poll has some pretty obvious glaring deficiencies,” Tierney said. An earlier poll, conducted by MassINC Sept. 8-10, showed Tierney with seven-point lead over Tisei, and Libertarian Daniel Fishman garnering 6 percent of the vote.
In both polls, however, Tierney’s favorability numbers among likely voters have been low for an incumbent who easily won re-election in 2010, showing how the controversy over his wife and brother-in-law’s legal troubles may have tarnished his reputation.
Just 32 percent of likely voters said they view Tierney favorably, compared with 43 percent who viewed him unfavorably, according to the Globe poll, with 17 percent indicating they did not know enough about him despite 16 years in Congress. Similarly, Tierney had a 35/30 favorable to unfavorable ratio in the MassINC survey, with 21 percent undecided on their opinion of Tierney and 10 percent saying they never heard of him.
The Congressman also accused Tisei of relying $3 million pumped into his campaign with the help of the Young Guns Action Fund, a PAC associated with Ryan and Cantor, to engage in “character assassination” by airing ads critical of his denial that he knew about his brother in-laws’ illegal off-shore gambling operation.
“Everything that has been run on TV I’ve seen has been accurate and only scratches the surface of the saga he’s been embroiled in the last two years,” Tisei said, noting Democratic groups have also spent millions on mailers to oppose him.
Tisei, a former state senator from Wakefield, represents the GOP’s best chance in the last 16 years to win a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts. While in the Senate, Tisei led a small but vocal Republican caucus of four to five members, including former state Sen. Scott Brown, that pushed for lower taxes and spending.
A social moderate, Tisei could become the first openly gay Republican in history to win a seat a seat in Congress as a non-incumbent. Mindful of how Democrats and independents decide elections in Massachusetts, Tisei, like Brown, has campaigned on bringing a fiscally conservative voice to Washington and his willingness to work across the aisle.
Tisei did say he would vote for Speaker John Boehner should he win in November, but said he believes having a Republican in Congress who can work with Republican House leadership will be important not just for his district but the state.
“I’m not going to vote for Nancy Pelosi and Speaker Boehner I can relate to . . . I hope to have a good relationship with the speaker and I expect having that relationship will benefit the state and the district. Now all John Tierney does is poke the speaker in the eye,” Tisei said.