If you listened to the conventional wisdom in the lead-up to Tuesday’s election, you’d have expected Republican Richard Tisei to be the next congressman in the 6th District — and you’d have been wrong.
Against almost all predictions, incumbent John Tierney survived a brutal campaign in which he was outspent, dogged by a family scandal that dominated the race and hit with a late tidal wave of momentum for his challenger. It all fueled a sense of inevitability as Election Day approached.
Tisei had been supremely confident the last few weeks of the campaign, even spending thousands to run an advertisement of nothing but waves crashing into Good Harbor Beach to give voters a reprieve from the political noise. The message of the ad seemed clear: “We’ve got this in the bag.”
But they didn’t.
In the end, Tierney’s quiet, grass-roots support in the district, and the strength of the good will he has built through thousands of personal connections during his 16 years in Congress, trumped millions of dollars in negative advertising, his supporters and staff said in interviews yesterday.
“The truth is, inside this district when you ask people the question, ‘Does John Tierney do a good job?’ the answer is ‘Yes,’” said Michael Goldman, a Democratic political strategist and a personal friend of Tierney’s. “Performance really does matter.
“John Tierney is not necessarily the guy you would invite to your St. Patrick’s Day dinner, and no one would ever invite him on ‘The Tonight Show.’ But he’s at literally thousands of events across the district. Voters reward guys who do the job.”
Tierney told The Salem News yesterday that he always believed the voters would recognize his record.
“We were trusting in people that they were knowledgeable of who I was,” he said. “We always felt that if we spoke about the issues, it would work out.”
Tierney rolled up his biggest margins in the district’s most populous communities, including Lynn, Salem, Peabody, Gloucester and Beverly. In Lynn, Tierney won a whopping 70 percent of the vote. It was such a huge margin and swung Tisei’s prospects so suddenly that the Republican campaign was throwing out possible conspiracy theories Tuesday and yesterday to explain it.
Agnes Ricko, co-chairwoman of the Lynn Democratic City Committee, said there’s no complicated scheme that allowed Tierney to win so big in Lynn.
“It was a lot of hard work by John Tierney. He has spent so much time in this city the last 16 years,” Ricko said. “People know him because he’s here and he has delivered so much to our community, as he has to the district. It’s personal to so many of our volunteers here.”
In Salem, the passion and turnout for Tierney nearly equaled that of Lynn. Tierney got 65 percent of the vote there.
The city’s Democratic regulars were all fired up at a rally, headlined by Gov. Deval Patrick, the day before the election.
“We need to take care of our congressman tomorrow; every minute of every hour you give us is going to be critically important,” Salem state Rep. John Keenan told volunteers on Monday.
The volunteers did what was needed in Salem and throughout the district.
“I have to give a lot of credit to the (Elizabeth) Warren campaign. They had a tremendous statewide and local organization and worked seamlessly and closely with our organizations,” said Matt Robison, Tierney’s campaign manager.
“On the local level, we were tightly coordinated and pulling as a team. It was a truly unprecedented effort of voter contact and outreach.”
The Tierney team itself believed it outworked Tisei at the end, when Republicans were feeling confident of victory, Robison said.
“John was everywhere the last few days, from fire stations to train stations to senior centers. We were beginning to have a good feeling, and we tried to keep ourselves in position to win through the ground game. We knew we had an unbelievable organization.”
Democrats also thought the personal attacks from Republicans aimed at Tierney and his wife, Patrice, motivated some of the grass-roots effort.
“People were tired of it,” Ricko said. “They didn’t like it, and it gave them more energy.”
The third-party effect
Many Republicans yesterday had very different explanations for Tierney’s victory, pointing to Libertarian candidate Daniel Fishman as the culprit.
Fishman received about 16,700 votes across the district — the margin of victory for Tierney was about 3,600 — and most people thought he pulled votes disproportionately from Tisei.
“Nobody can ever convince me that Dan Fishman didn’t cost Richard Tisei this election,” said Barbara Anderson of Marblehead, founder of Citizens for Limited Taxation and, until recently, a self-described Libertarian.
She was so upset by Tuesday’s outcome that she has renounced that affiliation.
“We could have had the closest thing we’ve ever had to a Libertarian in Congress with Richard Tisei,” she said, noting that he is both fiscally conservative and socially liberal. “He lost because of Dan Fishman’s ego ... (and) these ideologue Libertarians who vote on principle even if they destroy the country doing it.”
Fishman, who said yesterday that he was “stunned at the results,” said he would have preferred Tisei in Congress over Tierney, because the Republican would raise the national debt more slowly than the Democrat. But Fishman completely disagreed with the notion that he took votes away from Tisei.
He polled 100 people per week throughout the election, he said, and the results indicate that he took very few votes from either candidate.
When supporters were asked why they were voting for him, “the overwhelming response was, ‘I’m voting for you because I believe John Tierney stepped over the line, and there’s no way I could vote for a Republican at this point in time,” Fishman said.
“When we asked who are you voting for and why, one thing was very apparent: A lot of people in the district would not vote for a Republican no matter how progressive he is, because of national issues.”
Fishman pointed to other culprits for Tisei’s surprising loss. The Massachusetts GOP’s unjust unseating of young delegates supporting Ron Paul turned off a lot of young supporters across the state, he said. And independents and dissatisfied Democrats were turned off, he believes, by the GOP’s backward platform and outrageous comments about rape from some Republicans on a national level.
231 of 231 precincts
John Tierney, Democrat, 179,603 — 48 percent
Richard Tisei, Republican, 175,953 — 47 percent
Daniel Fishman, Libertarian, 16,668 — 4 percent