Gay Candidate May Help Mass. GOP End Losing Streak
Monday, April 07, 2014
Republicans in Massachusetts have lost the past 92 U.S. House races. That's a staggering number — the worst GOP drought in the country.
But analysts say this year the party might have a man who could snap that losing streak. He is vying for a seat in the Massachusetts 6th Congressional District, just north of Boston.
In many ways, Richard Tisei is a quintessential New England politician. He even sports the classic side-part hairstyle with a bit of that Kennedy swoosh. Old ladies tell him he's handsome. He's a veteran state senator and a local boy.
But he's also a gay, pro-abortion rights Republican.
Tisei skips the pizza at a recent event showcasing food from local restaurants, and instead goes for the more refined fig-and-brie toast.
A guy who went to high school with Tisei's sister comes over to say hi.
"I actually remember when you were the lone young Republican," he says.
"I'm still the lone one, but I was young at that point," Tisei replies.
Tisei has no problem cracking jokes about the elephant in the room while he works the room. But he also takes pride in voting the right way, not necessarily the party's way.
In fact, when the Massachusetts GOP platform endorsed "traditional marriage," Tisei boycotted the convention.
"My philosophy is that the government should get off your back, out of your wallet, away from the bedroom, and that's what the overwhelming number of people in this region and state feel," he said.
It's a message that resonates in this fiercely independent district — where 58 percent of voters have no party affiliation.
In fact, it even impresses some folks across the aisle, like Jack Russell.
"I'm normally a Democrat, but I'm voting the man in this case. If he swings too far to the right, I'm going to have to leave him, but right now I don't think he is," Russell says.
Tisei walks over to shake hands with another man.
"Sorry, I'm a Democrat," Donald Green says.
"That's OK. Gotta have a few around. A doctor, though — how are you dealing with all the changes in health care?" Tisei says.
Tisei is campaigning against Obamacare, and that rubs Green the wrong way. He says there's no way he'll vote for Tisei.
"I think diluting out the progressive power in the House of Representatives is not a good idea," Green says.
Massachusetts runs deep, deep blue. Tisei is trying to beat a man who's had the job for 17 years. He ran for this same seat in 2012 and lost by just 1 percent.
This time, he's challenging a battered incumbent who is also facing a primary opponent.
"I think the question is, if not here and now, then where and when in Massachusetts," says Steve Koczela, an analyst with MassInc Polling Group.
Koczela says registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans across the state, but that margin is smallest in the 6th District.
"There's the most favorable district in sort of a Democratic down year, and you've got a candidate who's about as nonideological as you're going to find in Richard Tisei," he says.
If Tisei can't win, Koczela says, he's left wondering how many more years it will take for the Massachusetts GOP to send a member to the U.S. House.