Political history and the race in MA06

John Tierney faces his most credible challenge for reelection since he assumed office and history is not on Tierney’s side this season. The question is whether 2012 is more like 1992 or 1972. I will focus on the former for today and look at 1972 on Wednesday. The issue at the moment is an incumbent Democrat who should win handily but, through a scandal within his family, may help the GOP send one of their own to the House of Representatives.
For a new generation of Massachusetts voters, the idea of sending a Republican to the House must seem like pure fantasy. But for two terms in the 1990’s, two of our congressional seats were held by members of the GOP. It was the most the GOP would send to Congress from Massachusetts since the 1972 elections when Silvio Conte, Margaret Heckler, and Paul Cronin held three of the then 12 seats. Then the state also had a Republican Senator and a Republican Governor. But by the late 1980s, Silvio Conte was the lone GOP member of the delegation. His death in 1991 left the state with an all Democratic delegation. But not for long.

In 1992 Peter Blute in the 3rd District and Peter Torkildsen in the 6th District won their first election while their national party’s standard bearer, incumbent President George H.W. Bush, was losing Massachusetts by 18 points to Democratic nominee Bill Clinton. Third party candidate H. Ross Perot took 22% of the vote here.
When Bob Dole lost the state by more than 30 points four years later, both were booted from office by Jim McGovern and Tierney.

Nineteen ninety two was a bad year for congressional incumbents with political corruption playing a central role in three defeats. Blute defeated Joe Early, a eight term incumbent, who had named by the House Ethics Committee as one of the “abusers” of the House bank. Early would rant on the floor of the House, calling members of the Committee “rats.”

Torkildsen defeated Nick Mavroules, a seven term incumbent. Mavroules was the subject of federal investigations into the misuse of his office and was indicted the year he lost to Torkildsen. He later went to jail.

Additionally, within Democratic circles, incumbent Chet Atkins in the 5th District was also under fire for having bounced 126 checks in the House Bank. Marty Meehan challenged Atkins in a primary and kept the district Democratic. a central issue in the campaign.

The scandal that surrounds Tierney is of a very different caliber than those that ultimately brought down Atkins and Early. And he is a far, far cry from the scandal tarred Mavroules. Yet Tierney’s family has aired some serious accusations at the Congressman but so far evidence that the he was personally involved in the illegal enterprise of his in-laws has been lacking. He maintains he did not know of their endeavors. Still, it doesn’t help the Congressman’s defense that his wife, Patrice Tierney pled guilty to tax fraud related to her brothers’ enterprise in 2010.

Politically the scandal didn’t much hurt Tierney last time around. But suffice to say, in 2012 his opponent is no Bill Hudak. Richard Tisei has a long and successful electoral career and would have been a credible challenge to Tierney without the Ermenian brothers’ scandal. With it, Tisei is probably the only Republican in the district who might be able to move the District from Leans Democratic to Toss Up.

That hasn’t happened yet and it will be interesting to see if there is any melt in Tierney’s support in leiu of his press conference last week. Tisei is in an enviable position—the Blute and Torkildsen of 2012—to run against a Democrat with a whiff of scandal, the only thing that brought down the last three incumbents to be defeated for reelection.

About Peter Ubertaccio

Peter Ubertaccio is the Director of Joseph Martin Institute for Law & Society at Stonehill College in Easton and Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science & International Studies. His work focuses on political parties, marketing and institutions. He received his Ph.D. in Politics from Brandeis University in Waltham, MA. Professor Ubertaccio and his family live on Cape Cod where he is on the Board of Directors of the OpenCape Corporation and the Sandwich Economic Initiative Corporation.
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