By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tierney, Tisei and a defense of party-line voting

John Tierney

We all live in Nate Silver’s world, so there were no real surprises on Election Day. Except one: Republican congressional candidate Richard Tisei’s failure to topple U.S. Rep. John Tierney, a Salem Democrat who was up to his neck in family trouble.

I was stunned that Tierney had prevailed. So, apparently, was Tisei, who was confident enough of victory to run a non-ad ad toward the end of the campaign showing nothing but a tranquil seascape. “That was lovely, but ultimately a waste of money,” writes Marjorie Arons-Barron. “Better he told voters why in a Republican-held Congress he could do more for them.”

Maybe better he didn’t.

As for whether Libertarian Party candidate Dan Fishman cost Tisei the election, I agree with Arons-Barron that Fishman probably drew a lot of support from Democrats who were turned off by the ethics cloud enveloping Tierney and who otherwise would have blanked it.

So what happened? Clearly Tierney benefitted from a party-line vote. You will find a lot of people who think that’s mindless. I think it’s pretty smart.

The culture on Capitol Hill these days does not encourage independence. Tisei, whom I first met in the 1980s when I was a reporter for The Daily Times Chronicle of Woburn, is a great guy and a true moderate, despite Democratic efforts to tag him as a tea party ally. But if he’d been elected, his first act would have been to vote for John Boehner as speaker. And you can be sure he would have voted with the Republican House majority most of the time on the issues that really matter — principally taxes and spending.

Tierney, who lacks Tisei’s personal warmth, has nevertheless been a reliable ally of the Democratic House minority. He voted for the Affordable Care Act, which Tisei said he opposed, even though as a state senator he supported Gov. Mitt Romney’s nearly identical Massachusetts version. And Tierney is a traditional Democrat when it comes to taxing the wealthy and preserving the social safety net. Those are values that voters in Massachusetts and across the country upheld this week.

It should also not go unmentioned that Tierney himself has not been credibly tied to his in-laws’ illegal gambling activities, even though his wife, Patrice Tierney, served a month in prison for her role. (I think the tale of Tierney and his in-laws is sufficiently convoluted to warrant the triple negative.)

People should vote their values and their interests. In the case of Tierney and Tisei, that’s what they did this week.

Photo (cc) by the Center for American Progress and republished under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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  1. Andy Koppel

    I assume you mean Tisei here: “As for whether Libertarian Party candidate Dan Fishman cost Tierney the election . . .”

  2. Great post Dan.
    I only saw the tranquil ad online. It was a cute idea, actually, and I don’t know if another ad of substance (or no substance) would have helped Tisei win over 3,700 more voters which, while close, considering the turnout, is a large amount of actual bodies. He would have had to bring that many more voters into the polls or peel support from Tierney.
    Tierney received 226,000 votes in 2008 and 179,000 votes in 2012; turnout appears to be about 40,000 more than 2008. That’s huge. Tisei received about 100,000 more votes than Baker in 2008. I don’t know what more Tisei could have done.

  3. Bob Nelson

    Howie Carr’s column mentions how libertarian Dan Fishman may have cost Tisei the election (a “straw”, third party candidate who may intentionally or non intentionally take votes away from a challenger). I remember someone named Eric Elbot in the 6th but can’t remember if he influenced the results. Tim Cahill’s ind. candidacy may have taken votes away from Charlie Baker in 2010, helping Deval. MA Republicans often are social liberals or moderates, and are seen as “Republicans in Name Only” by hardcore conservatives and insensitive “Teabaggers” by those on the left (for being concerned about debt, waste, fraud, abuse etc.) Some MA Republicans would be conservative Dems elsewhere. Rep 12%, Unenrolled like me 53%, Dem 35% here…many unenrolleds voted Dem.

    As for voting for John Boehner some on the right think Paul Ryan should be Speaker of the House…he did win re-election, since WI has a way he could run for veep as well as his old House seat

  4. As a past chair of the LP here in MA, I can tell you one thing for certain: There are many L candidates, and campaigns, not averse to having their jollies come from ruining a larger campaign. The thinking is that, by so doing, there will be much publicity received and a bigger party profile in future. I think there’s some truth in that, but I also think the negative reactions far outweigh the positive. I don’t like it, and never did encourage it. I can’t speak to Fishman’s intent during this election. Likely not his ultimate goal to be a spoiler, but who knows?

    As a former L candidate, and campaign manager, I can tell you with certainty that Fishman drew more votes from Tisei than from Tierney. There is a certain percentage of any electorate – I’d estimate 5% at minimum – that goes into the voting booth with the express intent of voting for anyone but “that bastard (fill in incumbent)”. All of that vote would have gone to Tisei had Fishman not been on the ballot. Of that 5%, there is also a substantial subset that, given the choice between an “establishment” candidate (R) and anyone else as alternative to the incumbent, will pull the trigger for the “anyone else” candidate.

    Add it all up and I do think Fishman probably cost Tisei the election, and that’s coming from a person who is normally proud to call himself Libertarian. Due to this outcome, not so much. Of course, our mileages do vary on that 🙂

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Suldog: Is the Carla Howell gang still running the LP of Massachusetts?

      • Carla Howell is now National Chair of the party. A fellow by the name of David Blau is in charge here in MA. I’m not familiar with him.

        • Dan Kennedy

          @Suldog: IMHO, Howell was not good for the party, unless your taste runs to paranoid control freaks.

  5. Mike Benedict

    It is completely disingenuous to say you are a member of one party and then complain when a candidate from another party does not get elected. Unless, of course, the party you belong to is simply a stalking horse of a second, larger party.

    The Libertarian party, for all its hootin and hollerin’ of loyalty only to the Constitution, is a reliable surrogate for the Republican party. I’m not taking a shot at Suldog above, as I can’t tell from his comments whether he’s perturbed over Fishman’s candidacy. But there’s a crazy so-called Libertarian named Barbara Anderson who writes regularly for some of the North Shore papers, mainly to detail her contempt for Democrats, and after Tisei lost, she publicly disavowed her own party. Like I was saying…

    • Hi, Mike:

      I’m not perturbed concerning Fishman’s candidacy for two very good reasons. First and foremost, I have no special insight into whether he ran because he wanted to do something positive or because he wanted to do something negative, so without mind-reading abilities and having never asked him his intent, it makes little sense for me to assume I know that intent, thus little sense to be mad at him. Second, no matter what his reasons, it is every legal voter’s right to become a candidate.

      While I said that some L candidates like spoiling a race, for the publicity opportunities, I have NEVER known a candidate who entered a race strictly in order to do that. That’s not to say such a creature hasn’t existed; just my experience.

  6. Mike Benedict

    As for Tierney, I think Democrats are fed up with the endless legal maneuverings of the Republicans. Tierney may be a boob, but the feds are always interested in legislator wrongdoings, as a huge list of ex Congressmen on both sides would attest to.

    For many Democrats, the Clinton years took the cake. Eight years of investigations and all they got was that the Big Guy played footsie with an intern. As a 35% taxpayer, I’d certainly like those funds back. So for Obama to come into office and call an end to the witch hunts — and back it up by NOT going after Dick Cheney, who clearly started a war in order to beef up profits at his company Halliburton, and then shot a guy in the face while drunk and got off scot-free — should have sufficed. Republicans, as usual, were deaf to the message.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Mike: That’s right. I think we can assume this all started as an attempt by the U.S. attorney’s office to bag a congressman. That they never even managed to file charges is telling.

      • L.K. Collins

        With lemmings in the jury pool, Dan, it really isn’t that clear cut.

    • Mike Benedict

      Yeah, the grand jury decides charges are warranted in every case BUT this one…sure thing.

  7. @Mike:
    If you can prove those accusations about the motivations of Cheney, you have a hell of a book. Personally, I like to think that I’m not the only guy who loves his country and I will reserve judgment about the patriotism of others unless I personally have seen them in action.

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