In lively third debate, Tierney labels challenger Tisei a 'Tea Party Republican'

NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Embattled Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) aggressively went after his Republican opponent, former state Sen. Richard Tisei, in the third debate between the two congressional hopefuls, denouncing Tisei as a “Tea Party Republican” before a lively and partisan crowd.

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Tierney, serving his eighth term, has become one of the most vulnerable House Democrats in the country after his wife pleaded guilty to tax fraud in connection with an illegal gambling business run by her brothers. He is facing in Tisei a veteran Republican state legislator who has drawn support and fundraising help from a bevy of top party officials.

With polls showing Tisei in the lead and Democrats increasingly worried about his prospects, Tierney’s status as an underdog was on display Wednesday night at a local high school, where Tierney came out swinging from the outset.

He challenged Tisei’s bipartisan credentials in his opening statement, quoting him as praising the Tea Party and supporting a national Republican leadership that he described as “extreme.”

“He says the Tea Party is a godsend and the Ryan budget is a good starting point,” Tierney said, referring to the fiscal blueprint offered by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the Republican vice presidential nominee. “I believe the opposite.”

Tisei by contrast rarely engaged Tierney until the end of the hour-long debate, when he characterized the congressman as a partisan who has little to show for his 16 years in office.

“You’re the only member of the Massachusetts delegation who hasn’t introduced a bill that’s been signed into law,” Tisei said.

Tierney countered by listing several pieces of legislation he had helped craft, saying a lawmaker shouldn’t be judged by how many bills they put their name on. Tisei described Washington as dysfunctional and said, “our own congressman has become part of the problem down there.”

Tisei appeared to have a stronger showing among the couple hundred people who attended the debate. They ignored a moderator’s pleas and cheered loudly throughout, and when Tierney accused Tisei of aligning with the Tea Party, they booed him.

Tierney argued that Tisei was trying to hide his conservatism by vowing not to take the anti-tax pledge run by Grover Norquist, even though he signed it when running for lieutenant governor in 2010.

“He’s going to pretend he’s a moderate on that basis,” Tierney said.

He added: “Mr. Tisei is not registered as an independent. He’s not running as an independent. He’s running as a Republican.”

Libertarian candidate Dan Fishman also participated in the debate and sought to differentiate himself by calling for a “fair tax” instead of an income tax and getting rid of most federal spending.