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Tierney Is Lone Vulnerable in Massachusetts

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. John Tierney is the only potentially vulnerable Massachusetts Democrat in this election cycle because of the more conservative bent of voters in his district, legal troubles in his family and a very credible GOP challenger.

Not long after Los Angeles police followed O.J. Simpson’s white Ford Bronco down a highway, Reps. Peter Blute and Peter Torkildsen became the last Republicans elected to the House of Representatives by the voters of Massachusetts.

The year was 1994.

In every subsequent election, the GOP has fallen short. Even in the massive wave of 2010, not a single Republican managed to eke out a victory. Massachusetts remains a very Democratic place.

The Bay State lost a district in reapportionment, which left the Democratic-controlled Legislature with the unpleasant task of drawing at least two Members of its own party together. The redistricting committee’s burden was eased, however, when Rep. John Olver announced in October that he would retire at the end of the 112th Congress.

Gov. Deval Patrick (D) last week signed a new map into law that shores up almost every incumbent and renumbers some districts. On Monday, longtime Rep. Barney Frank, who would have seen his district change substantially, announced he would not run again in 2012. He said redistricting played a role in his decision to retire two years earlier than he’d planned.

Under the new lines, most of Olver’s old western district is combined into the Springfield-anchored 1st and the Worcester-anchored 2nd. The new map significantly shift a few districts, including Frank’s 4th. But the Members remain pretty safe, save one: Rep. John Tierney was left with a district that is the most competitive in the state. This, coupled with his wife’s legal issues (she pleaded guilty to federal tax charges last year), leaves him vulnerable.

And yet, Massachusetts is still Massachusetts. With President Barack Obama and presumptive Democratic Senate nominee Elizabeth Warren at the top of the ticket, generating enthusiasm and helping to turn out base voters in big numbers, it would take a very special set of circumstances to end up with a Bay State Republican getting a House Member pin in 2013.

1st District
Incumbent: Richard Neal (D)
12th term (57 percent)
Rating: Safe Democratic

Neal’s new district stretches west from his political stronghold of Springfield, the commonwealth’s third-largest city, to encompass all of Berkshire County and the western part of the state. The new 1st is split almost evenly between recent voters currently residing in Olver’s district and Neal’s, so the longtime Congressman and member of the Ways and Means Committee will have to introduce himself to a lot of new constituents. With $2.3 million in cash on hand at the end of September, that shouldn’t be too difficult. The 1st is staunchly Democratic turf, but Neal faces a primary from former state Sen. Andrea Nuciforo. It will be a very, very steep climb for Nuciforo, who had $155,000 in the bank at the end of September, to unseat this well-liked Member of the delegation.

2nd District
Incumbent: Jim McGovern (D)
8th term (57 percent)
Rating: Safe Democratic

The majority of this district is new to McGovern, but it still will be an easy re-election bid for him this cycle. The 2nd not only includes his political base of Worcester, the commonwealth’s second-largest city, but also the deeply liberal college towns of Amherst and Northampton in the Pioneer Valley. McGovern, who has frequently earned a 100 percent rating from Americans for Democratic Action, is a true liberal who should see eye to eye with his new constituents.

3rd District
Incumbent: Niki Tsongas (D)
2nd full term (55 percent)
Rating: Safe Democratic

The redistricting process was good to Tsongas, who got her wish to keep most of the Merrimack Valley region — including her home base of Lowell — intact in the district. In a year with Obama on the ballot and increased turnout among the Democratic base, she should cruise to re-election with an even stronger percentage of the vote than she received last fall.

4th District
Open seat: Barney Frank (D) is retiring
Rating: Safe Democratic

Frank announced his retirement Monday, paving the way for a wild Democratic primary. The 16-term Congressman would have had to introduce himself to a lot of new voters in the newly drawn 4th, which meanders from his longtime base of support in liberal Newton and Brookline down to a portion of Fall River. 

Potential contenders for the Democratic nomination include City Year co-founder Alan Khazei, who recently dropped his Senate primary bid but had $751,000 in his federal account at the end of September, former Brookline Board of Selectmen Chairwoman Deborah Goldberg, Brookline Selectwoman Jesse Mermell, state Sen. Cynthia Creem, state Sen. Marc Pacheco and Bristol County District Attorney Samuel Sutter. Sources close to Sutter say he will make an official announcement next week.

One Republican candidate in the race is psychiatrist Elizabeth Childs. She had only $11,000 in cash on hand at the end of the third quarter. It’s unclear whether Sean Bielat, the GOP nominee in 2010, will run again.

5th District
Incumbent: Ed Markey (D)
18th full term (66 percent)
Rating: Safe Democratic

It’s no surprise that Markey, the dean of the delegation, ended up with an exceedingly safe district not dissimilar to the one he currently represents. The liberal suburbs of Boston should safely re-elect Markey to his 19th term.

6th District
Incumbent: John Tierney (D)
8th term (57 percent)
Rating: Leans Democratic

This is the lone Massachusetts seat that’s likely to be truly in play. The district, in the northeastern part of the commonwealth, will be competitive thanks to the more conservative bent of voters, the incumbent’s family’s legal troubles and a very credible GOP challenger.

Tierney’s wife, Patrice, last year pleaded guilty to federal tax charges after helping her brother’s illegal gambling ring. But the problems aren’t going away. She recently testified at the trial for another of her brothers. Spousal privilege was invoked, and she was able to avoid discussing whether she asked the Congressman, a lawyer, if what she was doing was legal, according to local news reports. Patrice Tierney admitted that she and her husband twice visited her brother’s headquarters on Antigua, most recently in 2009, but said she didn’t know it was the heart of an illegal gambling operation, according to the local reports.

The Congressman has not been implicated in any wrongdoing, but the headlines and the innuendo associated with Tierney’s wife’s case and her testimony hurt his brand and his chances for re-election, Bay State strategists tell Roll Call. National Democrats insisted the allegations have already been vetted by voters: Patrice Tierney’s guilty plea came the month before the 2010 elections and Tierney beat 2010 GOP nominee attorney Bill Hudak by a comfortable margin. But Tierney is likely to face a stronger challenger this cycle. Former state Sen. Richard Tisei, who was the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor last year, served in the state Legislature representing a part of the 6th district for a quarter of a century. Tisei, 49, is openly gay and is seen as an experienced and disciplined politician with a proven ability to raise money. But before he can take on Tierney, he’ll have to best Hudak in a primary. Tisei should have a substantial edge in that race.

Redistricting didn’t help Tierney’s cause, with the new lines leaving the district intact and adding the towns of Tewksbury, Billerica and a part of Andover. All three municipalities voted for now-Sen. Scott Brown (R) in the upset 2010 special election. In the 2008 presidential election, Tewksbury went for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), while Billerica and Andover voted for Obama. Overall, the new 6th is not politically very different than the current 6th. The district’s Democratic performance — a measure of how Democrats did on the ballot in relevant recent historical races — fell about 1 point, to 50.9 percent.

Tierney has incumbency on his side, had $441,000 in cash on hand at the end of September and has a strong team of consultants, including Jefrey Pollock for polling and Ann Liston for media. National Democrats are quick to emphasize that Tisei must first get through a primary fight and stress that he has years of votes in the Legislature, which might weigh him down. But if there’s a race to watch in the bluest of blue states, this is it.

 7th District
Incumbent: Mike Capuano (D)
7th term (98 percent)
Rating: Safe Democratic

There are few more Democratic districts in the nation than the 7th, which encompasses a big portion of Boston and the surrounding municipalities of Chelsea, Everett and Milton. It also includes the city of Randolph, part of Cambridge, and Capuano’s hometown of Somerville, where he served as mayor for almost a decade. Capuano will handily win re-election in this majority-minority district.

8th district
Incumbent: Stephen Lynch (D)
5th full term (68 percent)
Rating: Safe Democratic

Lynch is a safe bet to win this district that includes part of Boston and towns to its south and east. A former ironworker and longtime union man, Lynch has won easily in every Congressional election he’s run in since he garnered the Democratic nomination for the special election to fill the late Rep. Joe Moakley’s (D) seat. The redistricting process was good to him, and he should be on a path to a comfortable victory.

9th district
Incumbent: Bill Keating (D)
1st term (47 percent)
Rating: Safe Democratic

Keating’s job got a bit tougher when his Quincy home was drawn into the 8th. He plans to change his primary residence to a longtime summer home on Cape Cod. The 9th includes all of the Cape and portions of the South Shore and South Coast regions of the commonwealth, some of which have historically favored Republicans. Still, a Democrat should win here in 2012 with Obama at the top of the ticket. And with no credible Republican candidates on the horizon, it could even be an easy run for Democrats to retain this seat.

But Keating may face a primary challenge. Former state Sen. Robert O’Leary (D), who lost to Keating in the 2010 primary, is reportedly mulling another bid. Another potential primary challenger is New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang. Lang’s term ends Jan. 2, and he told Roll Call he will make a decision on a bid once he is back at his private law practice in the new year.

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