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Former Bush campaign chief, now a supporter of gay rights, to host fund-raiser for Richard Tisei

Richard R. Tisei, the former Republican leader of the Massachusetts Senate who is running for Congress, is tapping into a wealthy network of conservative New York donors who are trying to push the Republican Party to embrace gay rights.

Next Thursday, April 12, Ken Mehlman, President George W. Bush’s campaign manager in 2004 and a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, will host a high-dollar fund-raiser for Tisei at his home in the Chelsea section of Manhattan.

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Mehlman, who came out as gay in 2010, has been helping to raise money for Republicans who support gay marriage. Tisei would be the first Republican who has come out as gay before being elected to Congress, if he can beat incumbent Democrat John Tierney in November. That historic possibility has excited Republicans who want to see the party shift to the left on social issues.

“There are a lot of Republicans who want to see the party head in a different direction,” Tisei said in a telephone interview. “You can’t have equality unless you have people on both sides of the aisle who are advocates.”

Suggested donations to the Tisei fund-raiser at Mehlman’s home range from $5,000 to serve as a “host” of the event to $500 for young professionals, according to an e-mail invitation to the fund-raiser.

The Massachusetts Democratic party seized on the fund-raiser to attack Tisei. “The George W. Bush wing of the Republican party is going all in for Richard Tisei because they know he will support their radical agenda in Congress,” said Kevin Franck, party spokesman.

Mehlman was part of an influential group of New Yorkers who helped push gay marriage legislation through Albany last year, by cajoling recalcitrant members of the Republican-led Senate and promising to help raise money for those who backed the bill.

The group includes Daniel S. Loeb, a hedge fund manager and major Republican donor, and Paul E. Singer, also a hedge fund manager who is chairman of the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank.

In addition to his work in New York, Mehlman has been raising millions of dollars to help finance gay marriage campaigns in states such as Maine and Maryland where the issue is headed to the ballot this year.

Tisei has been a brisk fundraiser to date. He collected $310,000 in the first three months of his campaign, and today announced that he had raised another $350,000 in the last three months. He currently has $450,000 cash on hand, he said.

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.
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