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Massachusetts' 6th Congressional District 2012 Election Recap

by: RockRibbedR

Wed Dec 26, 2012 at 14:27:05 PM EST


But our friends are back
So let's raise a toast
'Cause I found someone to carry me home
Tonight, we are young
So let's set the world on fire
We can burn brighter than the sun

The lyrics of Fun.'s "We Are Young" blasted in my earbuds as I rode the MBTA Purple Line Commuter Rail train up towards Salem from North Station early on a Monday morning. It was fall break at my college and I was in Cambridge staying with a friend at Harvard. He had classes interspersed throughout the day on Monday, so a few weeks before I visited the idea to go help out Richard Tisei's campaign for a day popped in my head.

The witches in Salem were brewing up a storm's worth of trouble for John Tierney during the 2012 election cycle. His claims of obliviousness to his wife's involvement in an illegal gambling operation run by her brothers out of Antigua, even as he had visited them in Antigua and his wife filed false tax returns from their condo's living room in Salem, plagued Tierney. As a Tisei staffer told me, Tierney showed up to the Salem High School turkey bowl football game for the first time he can remember, and this staffer had gone every year of his life. Tierney, who was notably absent from the swingy and Republican parts of his district for years, suddenly was back in the 6th district every weekend.  Outside groups smelled blood and long-time socially moderate, openly gay, and popular former State Senator and 2010 GOP Lt. Gov nominee Richard Tisei jumped in the race.

As RRH readers know, no race excited me more than the race to defeat John Tierney. As someone who very much likes the idea of living in Massachusetts, who can't stand John Tierney (after meeting him in DC), who likes the idea of moderates running in swingy suburban Congressional districts nationwide, and who really likes Richard Tisei's legislative abilities, I was excited to finally win a House seat in Massachusetts after 16 years without one.

For a little more insight about my trip up on the North Shore, read here:

So, after spending a day on the ground and being impressed with Tisei's staff and his candidate abilities, I returned to Harvard confident that Richard Tisei would soon be Congressman-elect and would defeat embroiled incumbent John Tierney rather handily.

Much to the surprise of nearly everyone John Tierney eked out a win. What happened? How did Tisei lose when Scott Brown won MA-06? What lessons can we take away from the MA-06 race in 2012? Find out below the fold.

RockRibbedR :: Massachusetts' 6th Congressional District 2012 Election Recap


Of the towns in MA-06, Richard Tisei represented Wakefield, Lynnfield, and Reading in the State Senate.

Election Results

For the purposes of this diary, I excluded the Libertarian candidate's 4% of the districtwide votes, even as he likely cost both Tierney and Tisei some votes for differing reasons, so I could work with two-way vote data throughout this analysis.

Below is a map of how each of the towns in MA-06 voted for President in 2012. Andover's being split has been accounted for and estimated, although it's possible that Mitt Romney narrowly won the 6th district's share of Andover.

Color Key:
Navy: 63+% Obama
Blue: 57-63% Obama
Dodger blue: 53-57 Obama
Sky blue: 50-53% Obama
Salmon: 50-53% Romney
Red: 53-57% Romney
Crimson: 57-60% Romney
Reddish Brown: 60+% Romney


Below is a map of how each of the towns in MA-06 voted for Congress in 2012.

Color Key:
Navy: 63+ Tierney
Blue: 58-63% Tierney
Dodger blue: 54-58 Tierney
Sky blue: 50-54% Tierney
Salmon: 50-53% Tisei
Red: 53-57% Tisei
Crimson: 57-60% Tisei
Reddish Brown: 60+% Tisei


Richard Tisei ran ahead of Mitt Romney in every town in the 6th district. Below is a map that shows whether Tisei ran far enough ahead or not.

Color Key:
Blue: 0-3 points ahead
Powder Blue: 3-5.23 points ahead
Light Red: 5.23-10 points ahead
Red: 10+ points ahead


Analyzing the 2012 Election Results

Richard Tisei ran ahead of Mitt Romney in every single town and city in the 6th district. Unlike Andrew Roraback over in Connecticut, who underperformed Romney in the Waterbury area, Tisei even overperformed Romney in his opponent's base of Salem. Tisei needed, on average in each town and city, to run 5.24% ahead of Mitt Romney in the two-way vote share in order to win with 50.1%.

Richard Tisei did splendidly well in his old Senate district, running 10.4 points ahead of Mitt Romney in already ruby red, upper middle to upper income, and heavily Italian and Catholic Lynnfield (meaning he nearly got to 72% of the two-way vote share in his childhood home town). Tisei also ran 12.4% ahead of Romney in Reading and an astonishing 17% ahead of Romney in his hometown of Wakefield, which he represented along with Lynnfield in the State House from 1985 until 1991. This strong performance amongst his friends and neighbors he represented in the State House slightly lowered the bar as for how much he would have to overperform in the rest of the district to win the race.

Tisei performed slightly over or slightly under that 5.24% benchmark in most of the district's swingy, affluent exurban North Shore areas like Boxford, Georgetown, Rowley, Manchester, Essex, Newbury, etc. These towns, more conservative than the 6th district as a whole, were good personality fits for Tisei but canvassing Boxford and Georgetown in particular proves extremely difficult with some of those towns' minimum land requirements and winding, private lanes. Regardless, he performed strongly enough in these areas to win the district.

Unsurprisingly, Tierney performed relatively strongly in his home base of Salem, Lynn, and Peabody. These voters were who Tierney grew up and went to high school and college with at Salem State University, and they rewarded Tierney by allowing him to not run too far behind Barack Obama in each of those three towns. Tierney only ran .4% behind Barack Obama in rapidly diversifying and Democratic-trending (read: white blue collar voters are moving out)  Lynn-, Lynn, City of Sin-. Tierney may not have been very visible in the inland towns of the district during his 8-term tenure, but he had brought back plenty of federal money to Lynn and Salem over the years. His popularity amongst the district's union officials also propelled unions to throw very vocal and visible support behind Tierney in the district's two cities.

The fishing towns of the district (mostly on Cape Ann) were a mixed bag for Tisei. While Tierney won each of them handily, he performed relatively well in Rockport and Newburyport while only overperforming Mitt Romney by 2.8 points in Gloucester.  The fishing villages, especially Gloucester, are another area that had seen a comparatively large number of Tierney visits over the years and Tierney had focused on fishing as one of his signature issues in Congress. Regardless, on a whole, Tisei did well enough in the fishing villages in order to win.

The part of the district that Tisei put up a relatively disappointing, but understandably so, performance in is its western flank. While Tisei performed well in fairly blue Bedford, having campaigned during its Bedford Days Parade, exurban middle/upper middle income Tewksbury, wealthy parts of exurban Andover, along with blue collar/exurban Billerica were new to Tierney. While they were also new to Tisei, these towns provided golden opportunities for Tisei to introduce himself and run up a margin there through bringing up Tierney's issues. however, Tierney and his team campaigned in Tewksbury in the campaign's waning days and seemed to focus on these areas. Tisei slightly underperformed that 5.24% benchmark in these towns, but they should have provided an opportunity to get to 8-9% overperformance. Interestingly enough, similarly blue collar Saugus also showed a Tisei underperformance like Billerica did, meaning that Tierney's originally working class roots in Salem may have helped him in these areas.

Conclusion and 2014

Much like in the race for Connecticut's 5th Congressional district, Richard Tisei ran an excellent race but urban turnout in Lynn and Salem was just too strong for him for to overcome. Tisei ran slightly stronger than Roraback did but, unlike Connecticut where Chris Murphy's campaign was not well run and had no real turnout machine, Massachusetts Democrats were turned out in droves by Elizabeth Warren's well funded turnout machine.

Simply put, Richard Tisei should run again because he can clearly win, with or without John Tierney on the ballot. If Tierney runs again, almost all of of the voters who voted against him in 2014 (many of whom who voted against him on ethical grounds) will still be unwilling to vote for him at any point in the future. Tierney made statements late in the race sounding as if he wished he had retired, although defeating Tisei may have changed his mind on wanting to be retired and only running in his wife's and his honor. Tisei would have a ceiling not far above 50%, as most of those Tierney voters from 2014 likely wouldn't be amenable to voting Republican for Congress unless an incumbent Republican did a surprisingly good job representing the 6th district. However, Tierney's margin in Lynn alone was 3.5 bigger than his districtwide margin and his margin in Salem was nearly 2 times larger than his districtwide margin. Simply put, with turnout lower in Salem and Lynn in 2014, Tisei could win if he campaigns hard in the district's western flank to improve his performance in areas new to Tierney, overperforms as strongly as he did in the district's southern flank (which he represented in the State Senate), and maintains his margins in the district's most Republican region, the exurban inland areas of the North Shore like Boxford and Georgetown and the outskirts of the Merrimack Valley like North Andover.

If Tierney retires, the conventional wisdom on the ground is that Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll would be the nominee to replace him. Driscoll wouldn't have the advantage of being able to cut into Tisei's margins in any of his base or highly-performing areas, seeing as she's a Salem candidate and not from any of those areas. Salem is also smaller than Lynn, so increased turnout in Salem in  a midterm year wouldn't be as crippling to Tisei's chances as increased turnout in Lynn (which is 2.18 times larger than Salem) would be. Salem, while not viewed upon as poorly by residents of the North Shore as Lynn is, still has a gritty and somewhat corrupt political reputation in Massachusetts. Once Tierney's replacement wins this ~D+3.4 (in a Presidential year) seat, they are likely set to hold the seat as long as they want it. However, there is no reason for Tisei to be counted out in a midterm when the seat is ~D+1.5, especially seeing as he had much electoral success in blue towns in his State Senate seat and seeing how he over performed Mitt Romney everywhere in the 6th district in 2012.

I spoke to Richard Tisei via email a few weeks ago and, while his loss was obviously disappointing to him, he seems to be in good spirits and I would not be surprised at all if he runs again for MA-06.

If Tisei doesn't run, State Senator Bruce Tarr, whose Democratic-leaning district consists of Cape Ann and a large swath of the exurban areas Tisei performed well in, would make an excellent nominee, but I tend to think (and hope) that Richard Tisei will be our nominee in 2014 (once he defeats gadfly and soon-to-be perennial candidate Bill Hudak).

While listening to "We Are Young" by Fun. still gives me a slightly sick feeling when those lyrics I quoted come up, I'm hopeful that Richard Tisei could run again and win. He's an excellent candidate and deserves another chance, and this time in a midterm. Run Richard, run!

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Another Great Diary
It's good to know that Tisei overperformed Romney in every town, and it's also good to know that fiscally conservative upper crust voters cannot be blamed for his loss.

I'll also say that I agree with the assessment that Tisei has a good chance in a midterm, and just to add onto that, this is sadly, the only seat in Massachusetts that is worth spending any of our time on.

Lifelong Republican, TX-17

In a nutshell, that's what killed Tisei. It's a big town and he underperformed terribly (barely beating Romney) there. It's a very MoR town in a lot of ways. Middle income, middle information, about the same as MA as a whole politically. Lot of middle class Italians and Greeks. Ancestrally Dem, generally centrist socially and center-left fiscally. Outside of a tiny piece at its western end, it's not very much like Salem at all; it's mostly suburban - and thus I don't think you can consider it part of Tierney's base. In fact, the western half of it should have been an area where Tisei over-performed.

I think he didn't win those voters over because he didn't define himself well enough - the campaign was all about attacking Tierney. But in a town with people that still (probably fondly) remember Mavroules, that can seem like much ado about nothing. As such, they still needed a reason to vote for Tisei. These are Democrats that occasionally swing for the right Republican, but don't particularly relish doing it. For Peabody, Tisei wasn't the right Republican. I think these are probably the ones that were swayed by those stupid Tea Party ads that Tisei never adequately hit back on. Ultimately Tisei didn't do enough to define himself as a different kind of Republican - the campaign was too negative and turned off the people in Peabody.

You see the same phenomenon to a slightly lesser extent in the culturally similar Beverly and Danvers.

R - MD-7

First of all, it's not that Greek anymore. It was at some point but its Greek population is a shadow of what it once was. My mother used to visit relatives fairly frequently up in Peabody as a child.

Second of all, I know it's not urban but Peabody to Salem is like Prospect or Wolcott to Waterbury. Lots of that population that Tierney grew up in in Salem ended up in Peabody. It's not to the same exist but it's a phenomenon that exists.

From IL-09, familial roots in MI-14, college in PA-02/07, and working for the summer in DC-AL.

Andy Hill for WA-Governor!

[ Parent ]
Tewksbury & Billerica
Any reason these Celtic conservative burbs near the Merrimack Valley didn't turn out for Tisei? Cultural issues?  

[ Parent ]
Those were the two new towns added to the district
So it may have been a function of them not being as familiar with Tierney's woes. Also, since they were in MA-05 last time, RRR's benchmark is Jon Golnik (who's a Generic Some Dude) and not Bill Hudak (who is worse than Generic Some Dude). So Tisei theoretically had less ground to make up there than elsewhere, although Golnik didn't run much better than Hudak in 2010.

[ Parent ]
3 towns I expected more out of Tisei
Were Beverly, Marblehead, & Swampscott. We've been told these sorts of old money inner suburbs were rarin to vote for a socially liberal Republican. But they didn't. Why?  

[ Parent ]
they don't in NE
They don't vote for any Republicans for federal office; they are way too uppity to vote for Republicans.  

[ Parent ]
Its very hard for anyone to gain name recognition for a lower down race in MA
Many high-income voters, especially in the Boston area did not grow up in the state, but came for College and stayed on for work. Even those born in the state rarely live in the towns or even the area where they grew up. As a consequence, politics is the inversion of the way it works in say Appalachia or SEPA, despite a similar economic climate to the latter.

Few of these voters can name their state rep or senator, only a few more can name their congressman, but because they are high-income they tend to vote at 75-80% rates. And since they have no clue who is local(or even what district they are in) they vote on federal issues and then cast straight democratic votes.

29 London/MA-07

Centrist Foreign Policy Realist - Recovering Academic putting skills to work in Commodities Trading and Analytics

[ Parent ]
Beverly's median household income is right around the Massachusetts average, it's not really a monied place.

Look at the monied exurbs in the seat. They swung hard for Tisei. Look at the Farmington Valley in your state. It swung hard for Romney and Roraback in comparison to its 2008 performance for President and its 2010 performance for Congress

From IL-09, familial roots in MI-14, college in PA-02/07, and working for the summer in DC-AL.

Andy Hill for WA-Governor!

[ Parent ]
If you do some backstory
You'll find a lot of the old Brahmin R officeholders in the mid/early 20th Century had a Beverly address; so they had to live in the more monied neighborhoods  

[ Parent ]
Tierney & Peabody (Shamlet)
1) John Tierney's uncle was on the Peabody City Council for years.
2) The Eremian family (John Tierney's wife's family) comes from Peabody and still has plenty of friends there and Patrice Eremian Tierney's brother (the one in jail) owned a bar in Peabody for years.
3) Tisei also did rather well in western Peabody but lost badly in the parts near Salem itself.

From IL-09, familial roots in MI-14, college in PA-02/07, and working for the summer in DC-AL.

Andy Hill for WA-Governor!

[ Parent ]
This is an excellent profile, wonderfully researched
and put together.

I have passed it along.  

North Carolina Republican Political Consultant  

Thanks for passing this along and the compliment.

From IL-09, familial roots in MI-14, college in PA-02/07, and working for the summer in DC-AL.

Andy Hill for WA-Governor!

[ Parent ]
Tisei probably has a shot against Driscoll...
But he is just as likely to face Katharine Clark who replaced him in the senate. She would end up cutting into his base in the one part of the district where he overperformed, and would not be at any sort of clear disadvantage in the areas where he did poorly.

Tisei's real problem is that he is in a D+4.5 seat, and because of low levels of engagement with local politics by high-income voters, PVI matters far more in Massachusetts, especially this part of Massachusetts than it does in say SEPA.

29 London/MA-07

Centrist Foreign Policy Realist - Recovering Academic putting skills to work in Commodities Trading and Analytics

Katherine Clark
She'll be running for Ed Markey's seat seeing as she lives in Melrose.

From IL-09, familial roots in MI-14, college in PA-02/07, and working for the summer in DC-AL.

Andy Hill for WA-Governor!

[ Parent ]
We'll See
If Markey wins sure. But her district encompasses Wakefield, Stoneham, and Reading as well, and is about 65% in the 6th. If there is no vacancy in Markey's seat, she would likely try her hand at it and residency rules are pretty liberal.

29 London/MA-07

Centrist Foreign Policy Realist - Recovering Academic putting skills to work in Commodities Trading and Analytics

[ Parent ]
Salem machine
Tisei's team seemed fairly sure that Driscoll was being groomed by the Democratic machine up that way to succeed Clark whenever Tierney step aside... and that seems fairly likely to me. I think Driscoll would be stronger in a primary than Clark would be, anyway.

From IL-09, familial roots in MI-14, college in PA-02/07, and working for the summer in DC-AL.

Andy Hill for WA-Governor!

[ Parent ]
Better in a midterm.

From IL-09, familial roots in MI-14, college in PA-02/07, and working for the summer in DC-AL.

Andy Hill for WA-Governor!

[ Parent ]
This Year?
True, and the District is where you would see a larger drop-off. The problem of course for a Republican in the state is that a lot of the low-info voters are high turnout.

29 London/MA-07

Centrist Foreign Policy Realist - Recovering Academic putting skills to work in Commodities Trading and Analytics

[ Parent ]

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