Rising Republican Star and Openly Gay

ABC News | by Elizabeth Hartfield | 09/25/12

Richard Tisei speaks with a reporter at Roll Call headquarters in Washington, D.C. on March 5, 2012. (Douglas Graham/Roll Call/Getty Images)

Rising Republican Star and Openly Gay: Meet Mass. House Candidate Richard Tisei

Richard Tisei is not a candidate you see every day: pro-abortion rights, openly gay, member of the Massachusetts state legislature and Republican.

But Tisei, the GOP nominee for the sixth Congressional district of Massachusetts– which encompasses the state’s north shore– is shaping up to be one of the Republican Party’s strong chances to pick up a seat from Democrats. And he’s certainly their best chance to pick up a House seat in the deep blue state, where currently all 10 representatives are Democrats.

If elected in the fall, Tisei would become the first openly gay Republican member of Congress. It’s a distinction Tisei says he embraces.

“I feel like yeah I’m probably— I might be the catalyst because I’d be one of the first people to break through and I embrace that,” Tisei told ABC News. “I’m not afraid of being myself.”

Tisei, the former minority leader of the Massachusetts state Senate, has had a long career in state politics. First elected to the state house at age 22, he’s currently on his 15th campaign- and he boasts a near perfect victory record, 13 wins, 1 loss. He ran for lieutenant governor with Republican gubernatorial nominee Charlie Baker in 2010 and lost to Deval Patrick.

He served in the state senate during Mitt Romney’s tenure as governor- but like another high-profile Republican candidate in his state, Scott Brown, Tisei maintains a political distance from the GOP presidential nominee. He voted with Romney 54 percent of the time during Romney’s term, and voted against him 46 percent of the time, Tisei told ABC News.

And he isn’t shy about highlighting the areas where the two men disagree.

“When Governor Romney was here we obviously had different opinions on marriage equality and it didn’t bother me to tell him right upfront, I think you’re wrong on the issue,” Tisei said.

Tisei’s candidacy has been boosted by two big external factors; first, the high-profile senate race. The majority of counties in the district where Tisei is running went for Scott Brown in 2009.

“I don’t really Barack Obama view as the top of the ticket here in Massachusetts, the top of the ticket really is Scott Brown,” Tisei said. “I think he’s just gonna be tremendously helpful.”

The other factor is Tisei’s opponent, John Tierney. Tierney’s wife, Patrice, pled guilty to tax fraud charges stemming from profits one of her brother Robert made off of an illegal gambling operation. The guilty plea came in October of 2010, before the midterm election, and Tierney won his re-election that cycle, but since then the story has continued to grow with the sentencing of Patrice Tierney’s other brother, Daniel, who told local reporters that the congressman “knew everything that was going on.” Tierney himself has not been implicated in any wrongdoing.

Tisei told ABC News his focus was on selling himself as a candidate.

“You need to sell yourself. Tierney could be the worst guy in the world and if people don’t feel comfortable with me as a candidate, it’s not gonna matter,” Tisei said. “I think I’ve always been successful because I’ve met people and I put myself out there, and I’ve tried not to run a negative campaign.”

Of course there is negative advertising supporting Tisei on the airwaves in the district. The YG Action Fund–a Republican aligned super PAC- has been running an ad called “Man Up” hitting Tierney’s wife’s ethics issues.

ABC News currently rates the race as a toss-up.

If he’s elected in the fall, Tisei says he’s not worried about potential clashes over gay rights issues with more conservative members of the Republican caucus.

“It’s not a concern,” Tisei told ABC News. “The day the Supreme Court made gay marriage legal the majority of Democrats in the state were opposed to gay marriage, and I’ve watched over the last eight years how people have evolved and their opinions have changed. I do think that we’re in a period of time where two years from now, three years from now, it’s going to be totally different from today.”

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