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WAKEFIELD, Mass. — With the hum of late afternoon lunchgoers behind him, Congressional candidate Richard Tisei weaves toward the door.
Here, at Brothers Deli & Restaurant, he chats up the patrons, many of whom light up when they see Tisei's familiar face. The former state Senator, who represented this town in the Legislature for 26 years, is like many politicians in Massachusetts. He comes from blue-collar beginnings, believes that the government has a responsibility to help those who can't help themselves, supports abortion rights and staunchly supports civil rights for the gay, lesbian and transgendered community. And he appears to genuinely enjoy interacting with people.
An older woman sitting at a booth near the exit locks eyes with Tisei and smiles.
"I hear you're a shoo-in," she tells him.
He would be, but for the fact that, unlike most credible aspiring Bay State Congressmen, Tisei is a lifelong Republican. And he's taking on an eight-term incumbent, Democratic Rep. John Tierney.
Tisei (pronounced TIS-say) would face a seemingly Sisyphean task in most of Massachusetts's blue districts and in most cycles, but the 6th district race in 2012 is unique.
Tierney has recently faced a barrage of negative press as his wife's family has been in court for charges related to her brothers' allegedly illegal gambling ring.
The district, which grew slightly less Democratic in redistricting, encompasses the North Shore region of the state. Fifty-eight percent of the voters in the new district voted for Obama in 2008, but voters here have shown openness to Republican candidates. In 2010, Sen. Scott Brown (R) and GOP gubernatorial nominee Charlie Baker would have comfortably won the district under the new lines.
Tisei, a fiscal conservative who says his political philosophy is "the government should be off your back, out of your wallet and away from your bedroom," believes he's a good fit to represent folks here.
He mounted a bid for state Representative when he was 21, running the campaign out of his dorm room at American University. He drove overnight on weekends to stump in a district that included Wakefield and neighboring Lynnfield. "I knocked on every door in both communities," Tisei told Roll Call between bites of chicken kabob. "And I ended up winning."
Tisei lacks the slick charisma and superlative public speaking skills of classic politicians, but he has an authentic aw-shucks charm. He served in the state House and later in the state Senate, where he was Minority Leader for four years. In 2010, he was GOP's nominee for lieutenant governor. That race was his first political loss.