By Jesse Roman Staff writer
The Salem News
---- — This is the second of two stories about the 6th District congressional candidates campaigning locally.
IPSWICH — It’s like a red carpet Hollywood event as flash bulbs light up the Clam Box in Ipswich Thursday evening. There are three photographers, one from the campaign, one from the New York Times and another from The Salem News, snapping away as bewildered customers down piles of fried seafood.
It’s a far cry from the “lonely days when I was all by myself,” Republican Richard Tisei says, referring to last winter when he was just beginning his quest to become the 6th District congressman.
Now when he arrives somewhere, there’s a palpable buzz.
“A campaign is really about putting together the building blocks the first couple of months, and then it really begins to gel,” says Tisei, who knows something about campaigns, having won 13 straight terms in the state Legislature in a mostly Democratic district. “I started off in January, February and March and there was much less interest than in the last couple of weeks when everyone is tuned in.
“I started off a bit obscure in this neck of the woods.”
From the smiles and greetings, it’s clear that Tisei, who represented Wakefield, Melrose, Reading, Stoneham and Lynnfield in the state Legislature, has made significant gains in this neck of the woods.
“I don’t think you have anything to worry about” in the election, says Judi Mulholland of Ipswich, adding that her friend has a big Tisei sign in his yard.
Tisei was at The Clam Box Thursday at the behest of his friend, Republican state Rep. Bradford Hill of Ipswich, who holds an annual fundraiser there every year.
“I’ve been dying to meet you,” owner Marina Aggelakis says, grinning like it’s Christmas morning as Tisei walks through the kitchen door. “Want some fried clams?”
“I’d love to,” Tisei responds.
“I’m a Republican and I think we need a change and he is the perfect guy,” Aggelakis says later. “That’s what we need, some young blood.”
Tisei is challenging eight-term Democratic incumbent John Tierney in what has been one of the hardest fought and nastiest campaigns in the country.
Despite the vitriol that has colored this race, it’s mostly smiles from restaurant-goers this evening, who clearly weren’t expecting the cavalcade of press to join them as they ate their Thursday dinners.
Tisei makes the rounds, shaking hands, chit-chatting, and is received well — even by Democrats.
One woman, who declines to give her name because she isn’t supporting the Republican, greets Tisei warmly and even pronounces his name correctly — a large step from the early days of the race, Tisei says.
“I’m impressed,” he tells her.
One man, seeing the small entourage following Tisei, sarcastically asks if there is an election happening soon or something.
“If you’re voting for me, show up on Nov. 6th; if not show up on the 7th,” Tisei jokes.
Tisei has been out straight for months meeting voters, getting them to pronounce his name correctly and trying to build enough traction for the very difficult task of unseating an entrenched Democrat in a mostly blue district.
Earlier in the day, Tisei participated in a television debate with Tierney on WCVB that will air Sunday; prepared for another debate on Friday in Gloucester; met with a reporter for nearly an hour at his campaign headquarters in Lynnfield, and was slated to attend a fundraiser later Thursday evening. Every weekend he has two Town Hall-style discussions in communities around the district. That’s not to mention the countless businesses he’s toured, visits to the Topsfield Fair and other locales just to shake hands and meet people.
“I think we were estimating I meet between 3,000 and 5,000 per week, depending on what’s going on,” he says. “If I stopped for a day, I don’t think I’d be able to resume.”
This small and short meet-and-greet in Ipswich is actually a welcome respite.
“If I am exhausted, the best thing I can do is go out and be at events and meet people. It recharges me,” he says, sipping a Sprite, not a coffee, despite being offered one. “I’ve had so many personal interactions. People tell you what is going on in their life, the hardships they are dealing with.”
Tisei actually seems to enjoy the process, hearing the stories and sharing thousands of moments with thousands of people.
A reporter asks if anything has surprised him in his travels these many months on the trail.
“How enthusiastic people have been for change,” he says. “I’ve met so many people who are frustrated because they are not accepting of the fact that this is the new normal. They think the country can do better.”