By Douglas Moser
---- — Congressman John Tierney could have his hands full again this year as a new poll showed him deadlocked with Republican Richard Tisei in a race shaping up to be the most competitive Congressional race in Massachusetts.
Tierney, D-Salem, beat Tisei, a former state Senate minority leader from Wakefield and gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker’s running mate in 2010, by just 4,300 votes, according to the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office. A third-party candidate, Libertarian Daniel Fishman, garnered 16,739 votes that year.
This year’s race, which currently does not include an independent candidate, may be decided in towns like North Andover, Boxford and Billerica.
The poll found that Tisei holds a 10 percentage point lead in the northern part of the 6th Congressional District, which stretches from Gloucester to Billerica and includes Lynn, Salem, Newburyport, Boxford and North Andover. Tierney’s greatest support came from the populous Salem-Lynn area, where he leads Tisei by 10 points.
But the western portion of the district is a tossup, the poll found.
The poll’s respondents gave Tierney and Tisei similar marks for favorability, at 42 percent and 40 percent respectively. But Tierney’s unfavorability rating was much higher at 48 percent to Tisei’s 29 percent, according to the poll. Among independent voters, Tisei did better on both measures, earning a 48 percent to 18 percent favorable-unfavorable rating.
Tierney’s campaign pushed back against the moderate Republican image Tisei has tried to cultivate by saying Tisei would support Congressman John Boehner, R-Ohio, as Speaker of the House of Representatives.
“There is no 6th District voter that believes someone who claims to be a moderate, pro-choice, pro-gay rights candidate would cast their very first vote for an entire Republican Leadership team who are publicly committed to rolling back abortion rights for every women in America, opposing marriage equality, and passing a draconian budget that hurts seniors, students and middle-class families,” said Ryan Matthews, Tierney campaign manager.
Tisei, who said his biggest mistake in 2012 was not pushing back against charges he espoused extreme political views, was optimistic about his chances in a race with no independent candidate and without Barack Obama and Elizabeth Warren on the ballot to bring Democrats out to the polls. Additionally, he said Fishman has appeared at some of his rallies, showing an effort to lure at least some of Fishman’s 2012 supporters to vote for him this year.
At the same time, Tisei has a new team with some young faces he said would help him with a better grass-roots campaign.
Tisei hired as campaign manager Ryan Gough who, at 26, already has directed operations for the Iowa Republican Party in 2012, served for about a year as the Virginia state director for the Republican National Committee and was floated as a possible candidate for executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Party.
Charlie Szold, a 2011 graduate of American University who worked with Gough in Iowa, is his communications director.
Tisei described a 2014 plan that echoes his last bid, running as a fiscally right-leaning man with a few socially liberal views. He said most people in the district follow the same philosophy as he does, and he pointed to the 2012 results, which he said showed more than 52 percent of voters choosing someone other than Tierney.
“I think philosophically, they’re like me, they want government off their back, out of their wallet and away from the bedroom,” he said.
While he criticized the federal Affordable Care Act, he said repealing it was not realistic. Rather, he would like to see Massachusetts exempted from some of its provisions, essentially bringing the state back to its original 2006 health care system, while working on national fixes.
“The best thing to do now is to sit down and figure out how to make it work,” he said.
Tisei said federal tax policy and regulations are inhibiting job growth. For tax policy, he said he would allow corporations to bring profits parked overseas at a lower tax rate, say 20 percent, than the normal 35 percent in order to bring that money back to the United States. He also would eliminate a number of corporate tax deductions and reduce the rate.
According to the Federal Election Commission, Tisei closed out 2013 with nearly $395,000 cash. Tisei’s campaign said it raised nearly $435,000 at the end of 2013. Tierney finished 2013 with about $709,000.
Tisei said he would agree to a promise similar to the famous People’s Pledge between Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren in the 2012 U.S. Senate race, where any spending by outside groups in the race would lead to a campaign donation by the candidate who benefited. However, political action committees, such as labor groups that support Tierney, would also have to be counted, Tisei said.
Tierney will face at least three challengers for the Democratic nomination: Iraq war veteran Seth Moulton, immigration lawyer Marisa DeFranco and Woburn resident and political newbie John Devine.