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    Thomas Farragher

    John Tierney’s vulnerable incumbency

    Has there ever been a more dysfunctional, do-nothing Congress than the one now on its unearned August vacation?

    Not in your lifetime.

    So something very depressing will happen over the next few months. Almost all of them are going to get their jobs back. Throw the bums out, except my bum.


    Look no further than the Democratic primary on the North Shore, where Representative John F. Tierney is asking Sixth Congressional District voters for a 10th term.

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    He is considered the most politically vulnerable of the state’s nine members of the House, all of them Democrats, and one of the most at-risk incumbents in the nation. For good reason.

    He’s got a paper-thin record. Scandalous suspicion about his family finances has never been fully exorcised. He almost lost two years ago to Republican Richard R. Tisei, who’s ready for a November rematch.

    And he’s got a well-financed primary opponent with a gold-plated resume and the kind of back story that should have voters sitting up and taking notice.

    Democrat Seth Moulton, a political novice, has three degrees from Harvard and is a former US Marine captain who served four tours of duty in Iraq, two of them at the right hand of General David H. Petraeus.


    Moulton is an entrepreneur with a no-nonsense, direct approach to the campaign whose central message is this: Nominate me on Sept. 9 or Tierney is going to lose the seat to Tisei.

    Moulton spends his time talking about job creation, veteran benefits, and early childhood education, but the real issue is Tierney and his record.

    “Congressman Tierney is emphatically one of the least effective congressmen in the entire country,’’ Moulton said to me, sitting at an outdoor cafe in Salem.

    Moulton said he does not have to bring up what Tierney did or didn’t know about his family finances. Voters do that for him.

    Tierney’s wife, Patrice, served a month in federal prison in 2011 after pleading guilty to aiding tax fraud. She admitted to being “willfully blind’’ after helping one of her brothers file false tax returns while managing income from an illegal offshore betting operation. The House Ethics Committee dropped an inquiry into Tierney’s role, but that doesn’t mean voters have forgotten. And if you think that’s just me talking — or Moulton — listen to the first two women we bumped into on the streets of Salem.


    “I just think he hasn’t done anything,’’ Joan Murphy said of Tierney. “I honestly don’t know what he does.’’

    Paula Churchill of Danvers added: “He couldn’t stand up and take responsibility and had to let his wife take the fall?’’

    The fact of the matter is, the trophy case of Tierney’s legislative accomplishments makes Mother Hubbard’s cupboard look like a food pantry.

    Tierney is ripe, Moulton says, to be the first Massachusetts incumbent in 22 years to lose in a primary. Is Tierney’s story about being completely clueless about his family’s finances believable? Come on. It simply does not pass any common sense test.

    But I can tell you one thing. John Tierney is one busy guy. I’ve been trying to get some time with him since last week. Apparently he is negotiating a peace accord in the Middle East or working with the Centers for Disease Control to stop the Ebola outbreak.

    He did find time to issue a brief statement, which, paraphrased, says the following: Seth Moulton doesn’t know what he’s talking about; He’s “cynically distorting’’ my record; I’m a great guy; Please renominate me next month.

    And you know what? Sadly, you probably will.

    Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at