Richard Tisei is a rarity. He's one of three openly-gay Republicans running for Congress this election cycle and he thinks he can campaign against ObamaCare — in deep-blue Massachusetts, the home of the law that inspired the Affordable Care Act — and win.
“The economy is in worse shape than it was just two years ago. We have the highest amount of nonparticipation in the workforce in years, and you have ObamaCare, which in our state has hurt the people of Massachusetts more than any other state in the country,” he told The Hill on Thursday.
And running against the healthcare law in a state whose own healthcare reform was a model for the federal reform is an unusual tactic. Tisei said he believes the harm of the law will be even clearer for Massachusetts voters because it’s snarled a system that once worked seamlessly in their state.
Though he’s not advocating, like many other Republican candidates do, for repeal of the law, Tisei said he’d fight for an exemption for states with near-universal healthcare coverage prior to the law’s implementation, like in his own state.
“We already have universal healthcare [in Massachusetts]. I’d like to see us get the same waiver that was given out to all these other groups, and I’d like to see the bill changed to incentivize states to provide more coverage,” he said.
He also suggested the ObamaCare issue would highlight Tierney’s failure as a lawmaker to pay adequate attention to legislation and tie him to the claim made by President Obama that Americans could keep their insurance under the healthcare law, which was named the “Lie of the Year” by PolitiFact and has already been used by Republicans to hammer Democratic opponents.
“John Tierney’s been one of those people that’s going around promising people that they could keep their insurance and keep their doctor when they haven’t been able to,” he said. “All of this stuff that’s happening here is spelled out in the bill. If he had read it, he would’ve understood that. These are the ramifications of how Washington’s one-size-fits-all approach could hurt our state.”
Tierney was in 2012, and remains, one of Democrats’ most vulnerable incumbents, and Republicans believe they have a better shot at him this year without Obama at the top of the ticket boosting Democratic turnout.
Republican Scott Brown won the district in a 2010 special election with nearly 60 percent of the vote at a time when ObamaCare was a central issue for voters, and Republicans believe a similar atmosphere may be building.
Tierney was crippled last cycle by scandal swirling around an illegal gambling ring his wife’s brothers were involved in, but Democrats believe the family drama off the table this time because the House Ethics Committee closed its investigation into the situation.
While Tisei said he hopes the ethics issue doesn't dominate the race again, he didn’t hesitate to knock his opponent for displaying “bad judgment” on it.
“I hope that doesn’t become an overriding issue again, but last time it did because his family members were publicly accusing him of criminal activity. I hope that doesn’t happen again, and nothing else comes out,” he said. “I think he displayed bad judgment, but the bad judgment that I’m going to talk about is his bad judgment on the healthcare law.”
Tierney’s vulnerability has opened him up to two primary opponents, Iraq veteran Seth Moulton and immigration lawyer Marisa DeFranco. Tisei said he wasn’t worried about taking on either of them if they make it through the primary election, but said he believes the primary seems to indicate “that even Democrats are realizing it’s time for a change.”
He declined to dive too deep into what went wrong in 2012, when most political observers expected Tisei to win and he himself was so confident he ran an ad just a few days before the election featuring a 30-second shot of a tranquil beach with waves lapping at the shore, which quickly went viral.
But he did suggest that this time around his message would change.
“You have to be very clear and concise, especially when you’re in an election climate where there’s so many different things going on. It’s easy to get off track. What I want to talk about this election is the financial situation in the country, the economic situation in the country and ObamaCare,” he said.