With just 20 days before voters go to the polls, incumbent John Tierney is fighting an uphill battle to keep the job he’s held for 16 years.
His opponent, Republican Richard Tisei of Wakefield, has raised more money; an internal GOP poll has Tisei with a 17-point lead; and two Washington political newsletters, The Hill and The Rothenberg Report, recently changed their handicapping of the race from a toss-up to leaning Republican.
The Salem Democrat insisted yesterday that any struggles are overblown and he remains confident.
“We will push hard to the end, and we will win,” Tierney said in an interview, adding that his campaign’s internal polls have him “one or two points ahead” with a large number of undecided voters.
“Of course, we knew it was going to be close when you have $3 million to $4 million in outside and special-interest money coming in, where they don’t play by any rules but nasty and negative,” Tierney said.
“There are a lot of undecided folks out there we think we can get to come around, and we will get out there and work hard and do that.”
Although it appears the momentum is on his side, Tisei remains cautiously optimistic and seems to prefer the underdog role.
“I’m in an uphill battle. It’s really hard to defeat someone as entrenched as John Tierney,” Tisei said yesterday in an interview.
“I’m not looking at the polls or taking anything for granted. We have a plan in place, and we’re going to follow it. We’re working hard. I am all over the place right now doing my best to get known, to talk to undecided voters and raise money.”
Tisei announced last November that he would challenge Tierney for the 6th Congressional District seat. The 11 months that followed have been brutally fought, with both candidates hardly veiling what seems to be sheer contempt for the other side.
Republican super PACs have spent millions in print and television ads attacking Tierney and questioning what he knew and when about an illegal offshore gambling business run by his brothers-in-law. His wife, Patrice, spent a month in jail for helping her brother file false tax returns. Tierney has insisted he thought the gambling business was legal and he knew nothing to the contrary. He has never been charged or proven to be connected in any way to the gambling operation.
Democrats, meanwhile, have tried to pin Tisei to the right wing of the Republican Party, making the election a race between Tierney and the GOP agenda, rather than between Tierney and Tisei.
Tisei, who is gay, pro-choice and pro-gay marriage, has been dismissing the tea party comparison and says the strategy hasn’t paid off.
“Most people have looked at him and said he’s running a dishonest campaign, which is a problem for a congressman who already has a credibility problem,” Tisei said.
“People have been watching him the last couple years, and they don’t think he’s telling the truth and it’s boomeranged on him. ... (Tierney’s campaign strategy) has revealed his true character and has had the opposite effect. The more people know me, the more people are comfortable with me.”
Tierney doesn’t view linking Tisei to the tea party as campaign ploy — to the contrary, he said people have a right to know what a vote for Richard Tisei means.
“The message is it doesn’t matter that Richard Tisei says he’s a moderate; it’s how he votes, who he supports and what agenda ends up there (in Congress),” Tierney said. “His (Republican) caucus in Washington won’t care what he says, they’ll use his vote to promote their agenda.”
While Tierney asserts his message is gaining traction, Tisei believes his own message — that he is an independent-minded legislator who can break the gridlock in Washington — is resonating.
“I’m on the ground every day. I meet literally thousands of people every week, and the feedback I’ve been getting has been tremendous,” Tisei said. “Most people understand it’s time for a change. If John Tierney is re-elected to Congress, nothing is going to change. People have been very responsive to what I’m talking about.”
Tierney’s campaign recently canceled television ads, leading some to wonder if the incumbent is short on cash.
But Tierney said his campaign is not short of money; it simply shifted the air dates from November to October, he said, and would purchase more ad time for the last week.
“We’ll be buying ads through the end,” he said.
On Monday, Tisei also shifted advertising scheduled to run this week to buy more ad time during the final week of the campaign.
Both candidates said yesterday that they have the resources to win the election Nov. 6.
According to federal campaign finance reports released yesterday, Tisei raised about $660,000 in the third quarter (July 1 to Sept. 30) — its largest haul to date. Tierney raised about $508,000 over that span, which is also his biggest quarter so far.
For the first time, however, the Republican challenger has surpassed Tierney in total money raised, taking in $1.9 million since the beginning of the 2012 election cycle, while Tierney has raised $1.84 million, despite having a head start in both time and money.
Tisei has spent nearly $1.6 million, while Tierney has spent $1.67 million.
Tierney still has more than $420,000 cash left in his campaign bank account (including funds left over from 2010), while Tisei has just over $300,000.
Libertarian Daniel Fishman said in an email that he has raised about $3,000 and has personally contributed another $7,000 to finance his campaign, although Federal Election Commission documents were not available yesterday to verify that information.
With only 20 days left before the vote, Tisei described his campaign headquarters in Lynnfield as “enthusiastic, energetic and a bit overwhelmed.”
“There’s a steady flow of people walking in requesting signs, bumper stickers, writing checks — it’s a good feeling to see that happening,” he said. “The most rewarding part of this experience has been to see all the people who have stepped forward and said enough is enough, we need to elect someone new.”
Tierney remains confident and unaffected by the perception that his challenger has the momentum heading into the final three weeks of the campaign.
“We have a tremendous ground game. We knocked on 6,000 doors last weekend and 6,000 the weekend before that,” Tierney said. “We’ve got a full schedule now to the end, and we will meet as many people as possible.”
The workers and volunteers at his campaign headquarters are “confident, focused, energized and incredibly busy,” he said.
The candidates will square off in a debate tonight at North Andover High School hosted by the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce and again tomorrow evening at 6 live on NECN television.