Destination 270

SMU Students Analyze the 2012 Presidential Election

Challenger Capitalizes on Incumbent’s Family Scandal in Mass. 6th District, Looks Like It’s Working…

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For most of U.S. Representative John Tierney’s 16 years serving in Congress on behalf of Massachusetts’ 6th District, he has enjoyed widespread popularity among his predominantly liberal constituents.  As one of the most liberal members of Congress, his eight consecutive campaigns have been won with relative ease and typically large margins of victory, as Tierney has been predominantly known as a valuable representative for the people of District 06.

This election year, however, Tierney and his campaign have run in to a little trouble due to a stronger challenger and the continual information drip regarding his family’s involvement in an illegal gambling ring.

In October 2010, shortly before Tierney’s last reelection, his brother-in-law was arrested and jailed for being involved in an illegal gambling offshore gambling ring.  His wife was also jailed for a month in January 2011 for admitting that she was “willfully blind” in helping her brother file for false tax returns regarding his gambling profits.

For the most part, Tierney had maintained his head above the scandal, continually denying that he or his wife had any knowledge of what his brother-in-law was actually up to.  It seemed as though the voters of District 06 were accepting of Tierney’s declaration of innocence as well, with his polling support maintaining decent levels for the majority of his term.

Yet, true to the game of politics, as soon as the Republicans sniffed so much as a trace of vulnerability in the once stronghold democratic seat, they jumped at the opportunity to capitalize.

November 2011: enter in Richard Tisei.

Tisei is the man that would become John Tierney’s republican counterpart and perhaps the source of his demise as a U.S. Representative.  Richard Tisei is a 50-year old, openly gay, republican State Senator who describes himself as fiscally conservative but socially libertarian.

These factors alone made him a strong candidate in the predominantly wealthy, yet rather liberal district.  Given the shady circumstances around Tierney, several moderates quickly jumped the bandwagon.  Tisei also received instant support from major republican figures in the national arena.

Although Richard Tisei had quickly proved himself to be a worthy challenger of John Tierney, the beloved incumbent held on to his lead through the first half of 2012.  As an incumbent, he enjoyed much easier access to the public in the early stages of the campaign, despite the fact that much of it was spent defending himself and his wife against allegations of their involvement in his brother-in-laws scandal.

However, in late June 2012, minutes after Tierney’s brother-in-law, Daniel Eremian was sentenced to three years in prison for his gambling operation, he told reporters that John Tierney, “knew everything that was going on.  He sat in the boxes with bookies at Fenway Park.” He also alleged that Tierney “railroaded” his wife in to pleading guilty of tax fraud in 2010 in order to save his political career.

Cue the floodgates.

These allegations, whether they were reliable or not, sparked a frenzy among the media, the public, and especially Republicans.  By mid-July, Richard Tisei had out-fundraised his incumbent counterpart, with 42% more of his money coming from individual donors than that of Tierney.

Tisei, along with the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), and Super PAC’s like the YG Action Fund launched an all out attack on John Tierney, mostly in the form of television ads, using Tierney’s alleged knowledge of the gambling scandal as leverage.  Tierney has continuously reprimanded his Republican counterpart for allowing unethical fundraising, calling a need for serious campaign finance reform.

This is one of early ads aired on behalf of Richard Tisei.

After gaining momentum from the amplification of the controversy swirling around John Tierney, Tisei also pivoted towards branding Tierney as an ineffective lawmaker who has never sponsored a bill that had been signed in to law.  Contrasting this with his own fiscally conservative, socially moderate stance was a smart move on Tisei’s part, as it has given voters the sense that he would be a) willing to work across party lines and b) appeal to their more liberal stances on social issues.

In a debate between the two candidates back in early-October, the two candidates sparred over each other’s records, with Tierney claiming that behind the moderate façade, his opponent was a Tea Party puppet waiting to repeal the new healthcare law.  Tisei has scoffed at these allegations, reminding voters that he is pro-gay rights and pro-choice, and has continuously distanced himself from the tea party.

However, it was Tisei’s relentless attacks against the incumbent’s family, shady alleged scandal involvement and his congressional record that really seemed to stick with voters, as shortly thereafter, Tisei completely surpassed Tierney in all polls.  He also gained the endorsement of several local newspapers, including the Boston Globe, former New York City Mayor, Rudy Guliani, and many other prominent political figures.

In the latest poll taken of District 06 voters back in late-October, Tisei was leading the incumbent by 17 points.  Although his lead is suspected to have shrunk since then, it looks as though Tisei might make history on Tuesday as many believe he will be the one to come out victorious.

Not only would he unseat a 16-year veteran in the House, but he would also be one of the Republicans elected in the 6th District of Massachussetts in many years.  However, the real historical marker that would come with Tisei’s election is that he would be the first openly gay republican elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Overall, it’s been a brutal campaign for John Tierney, so much so, that he told the Gloucester Times if he had known he would have spent so much time defending himself and his family, “he’s not sure he would have run again.”

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