PEABODY — After a weekend of disappointing news for his reelection effort, US Representative John F. Tierney stood on the sidewalk outside his campaign headquarters Monday to insist he was in fine shape with three weeks to go.
“The outlook is good,” Tierney said, speaking with the Globe as part of a sequence of back-to-back-to-back media interviews in which he downplayed suggestions that Republican challenger Richard Tisei was surging past him. “We have a poll that — a recent poll that shows us in the lead, and it’s been consistently accurate.”
On Friday night, Tisei reported outraising Tierney for the fourth consecutive financial quarter, while the Tierney campaign found itself trying to explain its cancellation of roughly $350,000 worth of ads during the last two weeks of the campaign, denying it was a sign of financial trouble or a call for help. On Saturday the nationally regarded Rothenberg Political Report tipped the race to “Lean Republican” after weeks as a “Toss-up,” while Monday morning the Republicans touted an internal poll reporting a double-digit lead for Tisei.
Tierney responded by citing an internal campaign poll that showed him a point ahead, while the latest round of fund-raising reports, filed late Monday, showed that he had about $424,000 left in the bank, while Tisei had less, about $308,000.
Tierney, perceived as unusually vulnerable for an eight-term Democratic incumbent in Massachusetts because of continued attention on an illegal gambling ring run by his brothers-in-law, raised $500,000 from July through September. Though that was about 25 percent less than the $660,000 raised by Tisei, Tierney said his haul still represented “more than we’ve ever raised in the 16 years I’ve been in Congress,” insisting he had enough money for TV ads from “now until the end.”
Federal Communications Commission records show Tierney has no ads scheduled on Greater Boston’s four main networks beyond Sunday, while additional documents filed by WCVB-TV (Channel 5) show Tierney’s campaign last week canceled airtime purchased for the final days of the race back in June and August.
Tierney called that a rebalancing to move up the launch of ads in which he speaks directly at the camera to push back against credibility attacks and declare he had no knowledge of illegal activity associated with the gambling ring.
He said using the previously purchased credit was faster than buying new time for getting the ads up quickly.
“We hadn’t intended to change the ad to this new ad and put up as much of a buy on that . . . but when this one was getting such a positive response, we said, ‘Let’s go up immediately with it and fill in more time,’ ” said Tierney, a Salem Democrat who represents the North Shore’s Sixth Congressional District, stretching from Bedford to Salisbury.
He said the pullback, or rescheduling, was not a sign of financial trouble and that he would be on the air through Election Day without relying exclusively on an outside group targeting Tisei.
“Absolutely, directly, now to the end,” he said.
But Paul Watanabe, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston, called the ad changes during a tight race a possible sign of “something unusual going on.”
“Without knowing fully what those reasons might be, one of the prime possibilities is that he is running low on funds,” Watanabe said.
Legal troubles for Tierney’s wife and in-laws have hampered his campaign and forced him to battle — and invest earlier than intended — in protecting his reputation, instead of talking about his record as an incumbent.
“It has clearly reduced his ability to launch a full-out ad campaign in the critical final weeks,” Watanabe said.
In Lynnfield on Monday, Tisei seemed relaxed, enjoying an afternoon cook-out with staff on the hill behind his headquarters after a weekend of town hall-style meetings with voters and favorable news.
“We have a lot of momentum on our side,” said Tisei, noting that he has been helped by what he called his opponent’s “credibility problem” regarding the offshore gambling ring. “I feel pretty confident going into the last few weeks that people are responsive — pretty responsive right now to the message.”
That Tisei message is three-pronged, with the former Wakefield state senator portraying himself as a moderate, independent “live and let live” Republican while challenging Tierney both as a rank-and-file Democratic partisan and as someone who has not squared with voters.
“People don’t expect perfection in their elected officials, but they do expect them to tell the truth and to be honest, and he’s failed,” he said.
Tierney has sought to define a vote for Tisei as a vote for the conservative Republican House majority — the Tea Party, Paul Ryan, et al — and position himself as an advocate for investing in the middle class, including health care and job creation.
But the family legal troubles that resulted in a one-month sentence and five months of house arrest for his wife, Patrice, last year — after she admitted “willful blindness” to the enterprise and agreed to plead guilty to tax fraud for handling bills and taxes in the United States for one of her brothers — have hung over Tierney.
Tierney in ads and interviews has said he was unaware of any wrongdoing — he believed his brothers-in-law operated a legal offshore gambling company — and that Republicans are distorting it to distract voters.
He called ads from Tisei and outside groups focusing on it “$3 million worth of misinformation and innuendo and insinuation.”
“This is what the Tea Party and my opponent think they have to do to change the discussion from what he stands for and who he would put in charge if elected,” Tierney said, standing on the Peabody block where his campaign and district offices are located.
A Globe poll in late September showed Tisei holding a six percentage point lead over the incumbent, with 30 percent undecided and a 5.1 percentage point margin of error.
A Republican poll conducted last week reported a 50 to 33 lead for Tisei — and a 55-to-40 lead for Scott Brown over Elizabeth Warren among the same Sixth District voters, raising Democratic eyebrows.
The Tierney campaign said its own internal polling last week showed it holding a 41-to-40 lead over Tisei.
In a contest that has taken a number of bitter turns, the two sides and their surrogates continued to spar Monday, with Tisei’s campaign manager, Paul Moore, sending “demand letters” to local networks insisting that advertisements from a super PAC associated with the National Education Association, the NEA Advocacy Fund, be taken down for allegedly seeking “to mislead Massachusetts voters and defame Tisei’s reputation.”