BOSTON — As Republican Richard Tisei makes a second run for Congress, he has teamed up with other GOP challengers across the country to broaden his support.
Earlier this year, he created a joint fundraising committee, the Equality Leadership Fund, with Carl DeMaio, a San Diego councilman who is challenging Democratic Rep. Gary Peters in California’s 52nd Congressional district.
In April, Tisei formed the New England Majority Fund with Frank Guinta, a former New Hampshire congressman who is running again for the seat he lost to Rep. Carol Shea-Porter in 2012.
Such joint fundraising committees are common, allowing candidates to rope in cash from across the country, and has netted Tisei more than $200,000 combined.
But the partnerships highlight divisions in the GOP and show two sides of Tisei, who is challenging nine-term Democratic Rep. John Tierney to represent the Sixth Congressional District, which includes most of Essex County.
DeMaio, who is gay and married, is considered a moderate Republican. Much like Tisei, he supports same-sex marriage and abortion rights.
Guinta is a conservative with Tea Party backing who opposes same-sex marriage. He’s seeking the GOP nomination against Dan Innis, one of only three openly gay Republicans running for Congress in the country.
Tisei, a former state senator who is gay and married to his longtime partner, says the diversity of his fundraising shows that his campaign is inclusive.
“There are a lot of people around the country who want to see the Republican Party return to its roots on issues such a civll rights and equality,” he said. “They understand that we’ll never have true equality until you have people on both sides of the aisle who are willing to stand up for fairness.”
Tisei’s message of reviving the party of Abraham Lincoln resonates with national gay rights groups including the nonpartisan Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, the conservative American Unity PAC and the Log Cabin Republicans. All have endorsed Tisei, who could become the first openly gay Republican elected to Congress if he wins.
Gregory Angelo, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, said Tisei is viewed by many as a catalyst for change in the party.
“He’s turning upside down the narrative that all gay people must be Democrats, let alone vote Democrat,” Angelo said.
Victory Fund press secretary Steven Thai said his group views Tisei as the “best shot” at getting a gay lawmaker into Republican House Speaker John Boehner’s caucus, which is dominated by conservatives.
Tierney’s campaign has criticized Tisei for joining forces with Guinta, whom it described in a statement as an “anti-equality, anti-choice Tea Partier.”
Behind the race for the Sixth Congressional District is a larger battle for control of Congress. Republicans currently have 234 seats in the House of Representatives; Democrats have 199. There are two vacancies.
The race also draws attention because it’s perceived to be close.
Two years ago Tierney squeaked by with a 4,330-vote victory over Tisei — out of 389,852 votes cast, and Democrats worry that he’s still vulnerable. A recent poll showed Tisei with a slight lead, though within the survey’s margin of error.
In the money race, Tisei outpaced Tierney in the most recent quarter, from April 1 to June 30, raking in $468,779. Tierney’s campaign raised $415,491 in the same quarter.
Ahead of the November’s expected rematch, Tierney must first clear the Democratic primary in September when he’ll face Seth Moulton, of Salem, a Marine veteran of the Iraq war; Middleton immigration attorney Marisa DeFranco; Woburn resident John Devine; and John Gutta, a former machinist who lives in Groveland.
Several gay rights activists say Tisei has a checkered record on LGBT issues, which has limited his efforts to win broader support in the Bay State.
Arline Isaacson, co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, said many of the state’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists fault Tisei for not supporting them during his 26 years as a state lawmaker.
As a state representative in 1989, she points out, Tisei voted against final passage of a bill that became law that banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment and housing.
A year later, she said, he voted to prohibit the Department of Social Services from placing children with gay or lesbian foster parents.
“Richard’s biggest problem is that he is haunted by his record on LGBT issues,” Isaacson said. “Many people are still angry with him for voting against LGBT equality for so many years. When we needed him, he looked the other way.”
Tisei has repeatedly said he regrets those votes, adding that his views have changed. He first revealed that he was gay in 2009.
Former Democratic Congressman Barney Frank, considered by many as a pioneer among gay political leaders, said Tisei’s problem isn’t sexual orientation but his party of choice.
Frank said Tierney’s record on LGBT rights is stronger, and he argues that Tisei wouldn’t be effective in Congress on same-sex marriage and other rights issues.
“The current Republican leadership in Congress won’t allow votes on marriage and employment equality,” Frank said. “So it doesn’t really matter if Tisei says he’ll vote for gay rights, because those issues will never come up while the House is controlled by Republicans.”