NPR Story
3:14 am
Mon April 7, 2014

Gay Candidate May Help Mass. GOP End Losing Streak

Originally published on Tue April 8, 2014 7:36 am

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.

Copyright 2014 WBUR. To see more, visit http://www.wbur.org.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The Boston Red Sox once went 86 years without a World Series. The Massachusetts losing streak we'll talk about next is not quite so dramatic but it's big. Republicans in Massachusetts have lost the last 92 consecutive races for seats in the House of Representatives. Democrats are like the Yankees. Now the party hopes this season is the season for a Republican win.

Richard Tisei is likely to challenge incumbent Democrat John Tierney in the Massachusetts 6th Congressional District just north of Boston. Asma Khalid reports from member station WBUR.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: 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.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I have you on my refrigerator.

RICHARD TISEI: Oh, thank you.

KHALID: Old ladies tell him he's handsome. He's a veteran state senator and a local boy. But, he's also an openly gay, pro-choice Republican.

(SOUNDBITE OF GATHERING)

TISEI: The pesto base with fish, artichoke hearts and tomato.

KHALID: Tisei skips the pizza at this 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 his sister comes over to say hi.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: [I actually remember when you were the lone, young, Republican.

TISEI: Yes. I'm still the lone one, but I was young at that point.

KHALID: 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.

TISEI: You know, 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.

KHALID: And, it is a message that resonates in this fiercely independent district, where 58 percent of voters have no party affiliation. It even impresses some folks across the aisle, like Jack Russell.

JACK RUSSELL: I'm a normally a Democrat, but I'm voting the man in this case. And 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.

KHALID: Tisei walks over to shake hands with a man named Donald Green.

(SOUNDBITE OF GATHERING)

DR. DONALD GREENE: Sorry, I'm a Democrat.

TISEI: That's OK. Got to have a few around, right? A doctor though, right?

GREENE: Yep.

TISEI: How are you dealing with all the changes in health care?

KHALID: Tisei is campaigning against Obamacare, and that rubs Greene the wrong way. He says there's no way he'll vote for Tisei.

GREENE: I think diluting out the progressive power in the House of Representatives is not a good idea.

KHALID: Massachusetts leans 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's also facing a primary opponent.

STEVE KOCZELA: I think the question is if not here and now, then where and when in Massachusetts.

KHALID: Steve Koczela is an analyst with MassInc Polling. He says registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans across the state, but that margin is smallest here in the 6th District.

KOCZELA: There's the most favorable district in a Democratic down year and you've got a candidate who's about as non-ideological as you're going to find in Richard Tisei.

KHALID: If Tisei can't win, Koczela says he's left wondering how many more years it'll take for the Massachusetts GOP to send a member to the U.S. House. For NPR News, I'm Asma Khalid in Boston.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.