WASHINGTON — It was Christmas Eve at Century House, a historic tavern in Peabody. As Richard R. Tisei and Seth Moulton sipped mugs of coffee, they discussed their mutual ambition: to oust Representative John F. Tierney.
But nine months later, after Tierney unexpectedly lost the primary, they have become each others’ target in the November election. And this past week, when the two men were simultaneously in Washington, they did not plot, or empathize, or even share a table.
“I haven’t seen him,” Moulton, the Democratic nominee, said of his GOP rival. “He’s been hanging out with the Republicans.”
Tisei and Moulton are now on a collision course. The candidates who pitched themselves as outsiders against Tierney, a nine-term Salem Democrat, are now seeking institutional support from their national political parties, both of which consider the race in the Sixth Congressional District in Massachusetts one of the most competitive in the country.
Their visits with party insiders and fund-raisers put a focus on the disparate roles they see for themselves on Capitol Hill should they win the general election for a House seat that includes 36 cities and towns north of Boston. Tisei highlighted his ties to top House Republicans, a strategy that could play into Moulton’s desire to brand his new opponent as part of the national, and more conservative, GOP.
Tisei, in an interview at a Capitol Hill coffee shop, pitched himself as the state’s best opportunity to wield a voice in the corridors of power and as a man who would bring ideological diversity to the Republican Party. Republicans are expected to retain control of the House of Representatives and are hoping to take over the Senate this November. Massachusetts currently has an all-Democratic delegation.
“We would be in a situation with nobody in the majority” in the House if the delegation remains Democratic, said Tisei, a real estate agent who had a long career in the State House.
He said he has been assured by new Republican majority leader Kevin McCarthy that the GOP, which has grown increasingly conservative, would like to have a foothold in the Northeast.
“Why wouldn’t you want Democrats and Republicans if you want to have influence instead of putting all your eggs in one basket?” McCarthy, who has traveled to Massachusetts on behalf of Tisei, said in an interview. “Right now, you have no influence.”
As a moderate who supports abortion rights, and as a gay man who is married and supports an expansion of same sex marriage, Tisei said he could push the party to the center and would have greater influence than an average first-term lawmaker.
“I would have pretty much a national platform just because of who I am,” he said.
His meetings and events in Washington last week were a mix of courting establishment Republicans and presenting a new face for the party. He held two fund-raisers, including one with the Equality Leadership Fund, a political action committee supporting him and Carl DeMaio, a fellow gay Republican candidate from California. He attended a dinner with Log Cabin Republicans, the most prominent GOP group supporting gay rights. And he met with interest groups representing the pharmaceutical industry, electronics, and hospitals, he said.
Tisei, who failed in his previous effort to oust Tierney in 2012, has met numerous times with national Republican leaders. His path to victory may have become trickier because he is facing Moulton instead of Tierney, who had been politically wounded since 2010, when his wife, Patrice, was convicted on federal tax charges in connection with her brothers’ illegal offshore betting operation. Nonetheless, the National Republican Congressional Committee remains committed to spending $1 million on a race it considers a top opportunity, spokesman Ian Prior said.
Moulton spent his time introducing himself to Democratic Party leaders, many of whom had never met him and had endorsed Tierney. High on that list was Representative Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader from California who had been a close booster of Tierney.
“I opened the meeting by saying that I know she has a close relationship with Congressman Tierney, and I respect that, but I also hope that the Democratic Party will be helpful,” Moulton said. “And she said ‘absolutely.’ ”
Pelosi’s office did not comment directly on the meeting but sent a statement from Pelosi praising Moulton’s service as a Marine in Iraq.
Moulton, a political outsider, spent more of his time meeting national Democratic officials. That included several hours at the Democratic Campaign Congressional Committee, which Thursday placed him on its list of top tier candidates. The committee has reserved $1.4 million in television advertising time to support his campaign.
Moulton offered a more vague answer than Tisei in describing the niche he hoped to fill in Washington.
“My role here is to be a voice of fresh leadership and new ideas, who represents the needs of the district not just the desires of Washington,” he said.
He made it clear he intended to appeal to the advantage Democrats have in his district.
“Voters in the district wanted a Democratic alternative, but at the end of the day they’d like someone who represents Democratic values,” he said.
Tierney’s loss initially put members of the state’s congressional delegation in an awkward position because some had supported him instead of Moulton. But now that Moulton is the nominee, they are backing him. And even though many delegation members know and like Tisei from his days in the State House, they vowed loyalty to their party’s nominee.
“We worked well together but this is a very different place than the State House,” said Representative Katherine Clark, a Melrose Democrat.
“Moderate Republicans do not get much play here,” said Representative Stephen F. Lynch, the South Boston Democrat.