Rep. John Tierney greets James Rogers, Lucy Wonson and her son, Guy, at Gula-Gula Cafe in Salem, Mass., last week. The eight-term Democratic lawmaker is now considered the underdog in his re-election fight.
BEVERLY, Mass. — Eight-term Rep. John Tierney campaigned here on Saturday like any other Democratic politician. He talked about fighting for the middle class and knocked the tea party, hewing to the party line. He fired up the friendly crowd, which had come to see Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren. And he thanked the veterans on the stage with him for their service.
But in less than two weeks, Tierney looks poised to be truly unique: the first Democrat to lose a House race in Massachusetts since 1994.
When did events really start to turn against Tierney, a perfectly competent, if uninspiring, Massachusetts pol?
Maybe it was when his wife pleaded guilty in October 2010 to helping to file false tax returns for her federal fugitive brother. The Congressman easily won re-election the next month. But, even though he has not been accused of wrongdoing, Tierney was surrounded by a thickening fog of innuendo about his in-laws’ offshore gambling ring over the next two years.
Maybe it was when former state Sen. Richard Tisei, a socially liberal, fiscally conservative Republican, got in the race in November 2011.
Maybe it was in June, when another one of Tierney’s brothers-in-law, after being sentenced to years in prison on racketeering and other charges, told local reporters that Tierney “knew everything that was going on.” That provided potent fodder for anti-Tierney third-party ads.
Whenever it happened, this much is now clear to voters in the district and to those watching the race: Tierney has a very tough road back to Congress.
Yet in an interview with Roll Call on Friday, he gave an upbeat assessment of his race, quickly brushing off the conventional wisdom that he’s toast.
“The prognostication is based on misjudgment,” he said, walking through the city of Salem on a tour of local businesses.
“We’re going to get our vote out on Election Day,” Tierney said. “We feel comfortable. Our polls show us ahead.”
Tierney said the race was close because of the millions of dollars that have come from outside groups.
“Without the lies and innuendo, and without the $4 million, this wouldn’t be a race at all,” he said.
Indeed, more than $4.5 million in independent expenditure money has already flowed into the contest — though some of it has been for Tierney — and it has helped push the needle toward Tisei. But it’s not just the outside money that has made things difficult for Tierney. He’s helped in that effort.
After his campaign’s reported efforts to limit questions in debates from touching on his family’s legal issues, the Boston Herald led with a huge headline: “ALL BETS ARE OFF.” The subheadline read: “Tierney’s debate demand: No questions on family’s gambling woes.”
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