GLOUCESTER — Four debates in 10 days, six in a month, two as bitter and personal as any local congressional debates in recent memory. But US Representative John F. Tierney and Republican challenger Richard Tisei eased back on the rancor in their final meeting Friday, largely eschewing personal attack — if not occasional eye-rolling — and emphasizing policy differences.
They avoided talk of the issue that has hovered over the race and fueled their fiercest exchanges: how much, if anything, the congressman knew about the illegal gambling ring run by his wife’s brothers.
That might have been less about magnanimity than format, with the rivals prohibited from questioning each other directly.
So they wove their stump speeches through a series of panelist questions while addressing hundreds of business leaders and high school students at a Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce breakfast, separated physically by a third-party candidate absent from their most rancorous debates.
Tisei, a former state senator, spoke forebodingly of the nation’s $16 trillion-and-growing debt burden, but optimistically of the people he has met throughout the North Shore district. He said he would cut the debt and deficit by closing lobbyist-driven loopholes in the tax code — while still supporting critical safety-net programs. In closing, he sounded like US Senator Scott Brown.
“I’ll be independent-minded,” Tisei said. “I don’t care if it’s a Republican idea or a Democratic idea. I’m going to work with every single member of Congress to try to save this country.”
Tierney asked voters instead to save the country from Republicans — lumping Tisei with the conservative House majority leadership, presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and former president George W. Bush. He said Tisei would abet House Republican leaders who want to “voucherize” Medicare and slash social programs.
“This is an election about choice, and the fact of the matter is, there’s a clear choice involved here,” Tierney said. “There’s a difference about who leads Congress and what ideals you put forward.”