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Eight months ago, most would have said that Democractic Rep. John Tierney's seat in the 6th Congressional District was safe. But things have changed.
Tierney's relatives are proving to be a problem for him. His wife handled the bank account of Tierney's brother-in-law, who was charged with* running an illegal gambling operation. She pleaded guilty to willful blindness.
Tierney says he didn't know the gambling operation was illegal and that, as far as he knows, she did it to help her nephews.
"This was his personal account," Tierney said of the account his wife was handling. "She was just trying to help the kids."
It's not just the family problems that have endangered Tierney's re-election chances. The Republican candidate, former state Sen. Richard Tisei, also poses a real challenge. Republican political consultant Jeff Stinson believes Tisei will carry the independents and Democrats he needs precisely because he's not extreme.
"No question Richard Tisei will be able to get a lot of Democratic votes, and that's probably what's going to win this race for him," Stinson said. "At the end of the day, he defuses every social issue that comes his way from John Tierney."
One reason Tisei can diffuse social issues is because he's gay. If he's elected, he would be the only openly gay Republican in Congress.
"I am a live-and-let-live Republican," is how Tisei described himself during a recent interview. "My political philosophy is that the government should be off your back, out of your wallet, and away from your bedroom."
Tisei is getting a lot of support from voters. Since he got into the race against Tierney, he's been out-raising him and raising almost all of his money in state. It's a sign that there's a groundswell of interest in him.
The National Republican Congressional Committee sees Tisei as its best chance of winning a seat in Massachusetts. The group has already bought more than $2 million in air time on Boston television stations for the fall campaign. Much of that money could go to defending two Republican congressmen in New Hampshire, but the group calls Tierney's seat "a significant pickup opportunity."
And now here's where the race gets even more interesting: Because of Tierney's troubles, former Marine Seth Moulton is returning to Massachusetts this weekend to consider whether he should run as an independent candidate.
"I'm looking at it very seriously," Moulton said. "This idea was posed to me just a few days ago, and I'm taking a very close look at this race before making a decision."
Moulton graduated from Harvard and joined the Marines shortly before 9/11. Since then, he has earned a degree from Harvard's Kennedy School and from Harvard Business School, and has served four tours in Iraq. He was an aide to the commander of U.S. forces there, Gen. David Petraeus.
Moulton is from Marblehead, but he moved to Texas eight months ago to become managing director of a company trying to bring bullet trains there. In order to run, he would have to move back to Massachusetts and collect 2,000 signatures by the end of the month. He is still registered as an unenrolled, that is to say independent, though inactive, voter in Cambridge. He won't say who exactly is encouraging him to run, but he says they're Democrats.
"I think that the fear out there is that Congressman Tierney is going to lose this seat," Moulton said.
Fear that Tierney is going to lose this seat was unimaginable eight months ago. John Walsh, the chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, is not taking this race for granted.
"I think that the race is still a little unformed, but I think to the degree that you can project, it's likely to be a close race," Walsh said.
Democrats are playing down the importance of a third candidate. They point out that it takes money and organization to win a race, and Moulton has yet to demonstrate that he can raise either.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Tierney's wife handled a bank account of a brother who was convicted of running an illegal gambling operation. She handled an account of her brother Robert Eremian, who has been indicted and is a fugitive. Another brother of hers, Daniel Eremian, has been convicted in the gambling scheme.
This program aired on July 13, 2012.
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