PACs target rep race

July 4, 2014

By Christian M. Wade

BOSTON — Democratic and Republican super PACs are gearing up to spend millions of dollars on November’s likely rematch between Democratic Congressman John Tierney and Republican challenger Richard Tisei, as part of a national battle for control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The House Majority PAC has reserved $450,000 in advertising time with local TV stations, the first of several buys in the Boston market ahead of the Nov. 4 elections, according to reports to the Federal Election Commission. The group, backed by Democratic strategists, will use the money to blanket airwaves with criticism of Tisei, a former state senator who narrowly lost to Tierney in 2012.

“We’re feeling confident that Tierney is in a good place right now, but we’re not leaving anything to chance,” said Matt Thornton, a spokesman for House Majority PAC. “This is shaping up to be a very competitive race.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has listed the Tierney-Tisei race as one of its “frontline” contests across the country, meaning it will focus money and technical resources here. To date, the committee has reserved more than $1.4 million for political ads to air in the Boston media market in early October, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which backed Tisei in 2012, has already spent $350,000 on ads lauding him as an “independent voice” who wants to end “partisan gridlock” on Capitol Hill.

Tisei is also getting help from gay and lesbian rights groups, including the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, the conservative American Unity PAC and the Log Cabin Republicans. All three have endorsed Tisei, who would become the first openly gay Republican elected to Congress if he wins.

“This race is critically important to us,” said Victory Fund spokesman Steven Thai. “House Speaker John Boehner does not have an openly LGBT member in his caucus.”

Super PACs can’t contribute directly to a campaign, but they can run ads favorable to a candidate or negative ones about the opponent. The groups spent more than $400 million nationally on campaigns two years ago, according to FEC records. In Massachusetts, most of the $6.1 million spent by PACs during the election cycle was devoted to the Tierney-Tisei race.

Spending in the 6th Congressional District this year is being driven by a larger battle for control of Congress. Republicans currently have 234 seats in the House of Representatives, and Democrats have 199 seats. There are two vacancies.

Republicans are widely expected to keep control of the House but are also pushing to take over the Senate, where Democrats now have a 53 to 45 seat advantage, with two independents. That would give Republicans leverage to stymie President Barack Obama’s legislative agenda during his last two years in office.

Democrats, in the meantime, want to protect House seats in key states as they look to the 2016 Presidential election.

“Nobody is operating under the assumption that Democrats are going to take the House this time around, but I think we have a real shot at that in 2016,” Thornton said. “For now we’re trying to hold onto vulnerable seats.”

The non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report, which rates the competitiveness of House and Senate races, listed Tierney’s re-election bid as a “toss-up,” but it also points out the race tilts slightly in the Democrat’s favor.

Before he gets there Tierney must first clear the September primary, when he’ll face Democratic challengers Seth Moulton of Salem, a Marine veteran of the Iraq war; Middeton immigration attorney Marisa DeFranco; Woburn resident John Devine; and John Gutta, a former machinist who lives in Groveland.

“We take every opponent seriously,” Tierney said in a statement. “Right now our focus remains on talking to voters and continuing to build on the strong grassroots support we are receiving across the district.”

Tierney, who has represented the district for 17 years, had more in his campaign coffers than his challengers at the end of April — $976,718. His campaign would not release updated totals.

Tisei’s campaign, which had $569,256 as of March 30, also declined to reveal its most recent haul but noted it expects “strong” fundraising, buoyed by recent polls indicating a close race.

“People are very concerned about the direction of the country,” Tisei said in an interview. “There’s a lot of things that need to be fixed in Washington, from healthcare to the economy, and John Tierney has turned a blind eye.”

A recent Emerson College poll showed Tisei with a 5-point lead over Tierney. The survey, taken in June, of about less than 300 likely voters had a margin of error of about 6 percent. Tierney’s campaign is quick to point out that the poll represented a only tiny segment of the electorate.

Two years ago Tierney squeaked by with a 4,330-vote victory over Tisei — out of 389,852 cast — despite damaging news about an illegal gambling operation organized by the congressman’s brothers-in-law on the Caribbean island nation of Antigua.