SALEM -- Despite a deluge of outside spending and a withering challenge from a longtime state legislator, US Representative John F. Tierney held on Tuesday to win a ninth term, prevailing by the narrowest margin since his first race.
With all 231 precincts reporting, the Democratic incumbent won about 48.25 percent of the vote to 47.25 for Republican Richard Tisei in the North Shore’s Sixth Congressional District, holding on in a House race ranked by Politico as one of the country’s 10 nastiest. It was also one of the country’s most expensive House races. Daniel Fishman, a Libertarian candidate, won 4.5 percent.
Tierney, speaking to reporters in the Hawthorne Hotel in downtown Salem, declared victory,
“In the end this was not about our family and it wan’t about his family. It was about your families,” he told the crowd. “You owned this. This is your victory”
Tisei entered the ballroom of the Peabody Marriott shortly after 11 p.m., to cheers of “Richard, Richard, Richard” from a crowd of about 100 loyal supporters. Tisei declined to concede at the time, but the tone was somber. As many as 250 Tisei supporters had filled the room earlier, but as results trickled in slowly, many left.
“We lose all the time,” said Brandon Chapman, 34, an accountant from Reading, who grew up in Wakefield, Tisei’s hometown. “We thought we had a shot with a candidate like Richard Tisei. I’ve followed his career since I was six years old. “
Karl Weld, 42, a graphic designer, also from Reading, said, “If this state won’t elect a Republican like Richard Tisei, it will never elect a Republican.”
Republicans had considered Tierney vulnerable since his wife pleaded guilty in 2010 to aiding the filing of false tax returns for one of her brothers, admitting “willful blindness” in helping manage millions of dollars in illegal gambling income. Patrice Tierney spent a month in prison last year; one brother is serving three years, and the other remains a fugitive in the Caribbean.
The congressman was not implicated and insisted he knew nothing about the illegal enterprise.
Tierney had not been in a race this close since 1996, when it took a month of recounts to finalize his 371-vote victory in his second attempt to unseat Republican incumbent Peter Torkildsen. He fended off Torkildsen with 55 percent in 1998 and won easily every two years until now.
Tierney withstood $3.5 million in outside spending and about $1.7 million in spending by Tisei, much of it aimed at questioning what he might have known about the illegal gambling enterprise. Tierney spent more than $2 million in response -- and benefited from $2 million in outside support -- defending himself and attempting to paint Tisei as an acolyte of the Tea Party movement, despite his reputation as a moderate.
Tisei is a self-described “live and let live Republican,” a fiscal conservative who supports abortion rights and same-sex marriage. A victory would have made him the first openly gay Republican House member to come out before winning election.
With the retirement of Barney Frank and John Olver, Tierney will become the third-longest serving member of the Massachusetts House delegation, behind Ed Markey and Richard Neal and parallel with Jim McGovern.Kathy McCabe and Steven Rosenberg of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Eric Moskowitz can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeMoskowitz.