By Jesse Roman
The Salem News
By any measure, the race between Democratic Congressman John Tierney and Republican challenger Richard Tisei will come down to the wire. As if it weren’t interesting enough, enter Daniel Fishman.
The Libertarian candidate jumped into the heated race in August to little fanfare, but has shown in debates that he’s no slouch, delivering articulate, measured arguments — somewhat uncommon for inexperienced, third-party candidates.
“The No. 1 thing people say to me is, at this point, the government is clearly broken and that just by having a third-party candidate in the race has changed the tenor of the conversation,” Fishman said in an interview.
While nobody gives Fishman, a Beverly resident who has never run for public office, a serious chance to upset the well-funded major-party candidates, his candidacy cannot be discounted. In a race expected to be decided by a razor-thin margin, who votes for Fishman matters. If he siphons away more votes from one candidate than the other, it could decide who becomes the 6th District’s next congressman.
Neither the Republican or Democratic camps know for sure what to make of the Fishman factor.
“It’s hard to know,” said Matt Robison, Tierney’s campaign manager. “I think Fishman appeals to people who have a center-right political philosophy, which he expresses, and a Republican libertarian philosophy. He appears to be someone who believes in equal rights, but has really emphasized fiscal conservatism. It’s hard to say where that breaks down exactly in terms of the electorate.”
Paul Moore, Tisei’s campaign manager, said that his campaign’s internal numbers show Fishman supporters tend to come equally from both sides, meaning Fishman’s candidacy would have a negligible impact on the November election.
“Philosophically, I would say Fishman is probably an equal draw between us and Tierney. Our internal numbers show that he is taking from both of us,” Moore said.
“Anytime a third-party candidate enters the race, it changes the mix up a little bit,” Moore said. “When you see Fishman onstage with Tierney and Richard, he has his own views, his own positions, and he states them.”
Fishman has debated one-on-one with John Tierney in Lynn, debated last month against both candidates at North Shore Community College in Lynn, and on Thursday night debated one-on-one with Richard Tisei on Fox 25.
Fishman believes he will draw votes from both sides of the political spectrum.
“A lot of people say they would never vote for a Republican, but would never vote for John Tierney and they are glad I’m running. I am also more fiscally conservative than Richard Tisei; I will absolutely not vote to raise the debt ceiling even more,” Fishman said. “I can’t say for sure who I would take more votes from.”
That’s not the aim anyway, he contends.
“I want to be clear that I am not running to weaken either candidate, I’m running because my views on the issues were not being represented,” he said.
Fishman thinks he may get a boost from disgruntled voters, fed up with the lack of choice and the nasty and personal attacks between the major-party candidates — “not from a distaste of these guys personally,” he said, “but a distaste for what government has become.
“They’re splitting we the people into two camps, and people don’t like that. Now there is a choice out there.”
However, Fishman is getting some push-back from conservatives who view his candidacy as a threat to Tisei. Both are socially liberal and fiscally conservative, and conventional wisdom for many suggests that Fishman stands to do more harm to Tisei than to his Democratic opponent.
“I don’t know who would support Tierney at this point; I guess it’s union people, and I can’t imagine any of them supporting Fishman,” said Barbara Anderson, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, a conservative group based in Marblehead.
Although Anderson counts herself as a Libertarian, she wishes Fishman had stayed out of the race.
“This is not a year we should be fooling around with a third-party candidacy. It’s a very serious time in our nation’s history,” Anderson said. “I can’t imagine why on earth he is running, especially when there is such a good candidate that’s so similar. ... If this is a very close race, I can imagine it being a concern.”
On Fishman’s own website, a commenter named Bob Bragdon urged Fishman to back out of the race so as not to inadvertently help Tierney.
“Be pragmatic and look at the long picture here,” Bragdon wrote. “If we are saddled with Tierney for two more years, that will be on your shoulders, and your name will be mud.”
Fishman doesn’t back down.
“I’m willing to be called mud if that’s what it takes to stand up for civil liberties. I cannot willfully support a party that passed the Defense of Marriage Act. I cannot support a party that supports the Patriot Act,” he said, naming two controversial laws, the first signed by Democratic President Bill Clinton and the second signed by Republican President George W. Bush.
“If I felt like the Republican Party was true to the principles they avow, I could have kept quiet. But I think it’s clear to everyone now that the two parties are both about increasing governmental power — just in different directions.”
There has not been a peep of criticism from either Tisei or Tierney about Fishman — he is the lone man who has escaped the brutal mudslinging that has characterized the race so far.
“What Fishman himself says, I think, is very true: He’s not running to hurt or help anyone, he’s running to express a message. And we don’t know if that benefits or detracts from any candidate; he may appeal to a diverse set of voters,” Robison said.
“He and Congressman Tierney disagree on a number of issues, but we certainly respect his point of view, which he has expressed very passionately.”
Moore, Tisei’s campaign manager, welcomed the Libertarian.
“With all respect to Fishman, it takes a long time and a lot of effort to build an organization and a structure to turn out the vote,” Moore said, “but I love the fact that he’s in the mix. It’s democracy.”