The National Republican Congressional Committee is jumping in to help former state Sen. Richard Tisei in his bid to unseat Democratic Rep. John Tierney.
The NRCC has launched a website, howcouldtierneynotknow.com, to draw attention to the fact that Tierney says he knew nothing about the activities of his wife's brothers who ran an illegal offshore gambling operation.
The website shows John Tierney and his wife, Patrice, as the Jack and Queen of Spades. Patrice Tierney was sentenced to 30 days in jail for aiding and abetting the filing of false tax returns when she managed the bank account of one of her brothers while he lived overseas. Tierney has said he knew nothing of the activities of his brothers-in-law.
"If he's so clueless as to what's going on in his family, what else is going on that he's clueless about?" said Nat Sillin, a spokesman for the NRCC.
Sillin says the website is the beginning of a sustained campaign to help Tisei beat Tierney.
Tierney wasn't available for an interview. Instead, his campaign released a statement that read:
[Tisei] is so desperate to hide his positions that he is going after the Congressman's wife who took responsibility for her actions and paid a terrible price. Richard Tisei knows full well the Federal Judge said Congressman Tierney was not involved in this in any way, shape or form.
"The federal judge, on the day he sentenced Tierney's wife, made a point of twice saying from the bench that John Tierney was not involved in this case at all," said Michael Goldman, a media consultant working on Tierney's re-election campaign.
"It's important to note that she was convicted of willful blindness, which means she did not know what was going on," Goldman said. "And she should have looked more closely. If you're willfully blind, it means you don't know anything."
Tisei says this is something people in the district are talking about.
"And the thing I hear most from people is they don't understand why his wife, during the trial, invoked spousal privilege," Tisei said. "They would have expected the congressman to tell his wife. 'You know what, honey, go and tell them everything you know. Answer all the questions.' "
The NRCC views Tisei as the Republican party's best prospect for winning a congressional seat in Massachusetts. But Tisei says he would rather not see the NRCC get involved in the race.
"Because I think I have a pretty good message right now of talking to the people about the country and the direction we're heading in and the choice that I want to be able to offer them," Tisei said. "I just hate to see national forces coming in and trying to influence the people here one way or the other."
Tierney has held on to the district since 1997. Now, redistricting is likely to make it a more competitive race for Republicans. The district added three towns that Scott Brown, and then Charlie Baker and his running mate, Tisei, won in 2010.
Many of voters in one of those towns, North Andover, said pretty much said the same thing about the race: that they weren't paying much attention to it just yet.
One Democratic voter, Jerry Sanford, did come to Tierney's defense.
"My perspective is that I don't know enough about it," Sanford said. "It seems likely that he probably knew about something, it's his brother-in-law. But if it didn't affect his job as a representative, I'm OK with it.
Tierney won his last election easily. But his time, he has a formidable opponent in Tisei, who drew the attention of the NRCC because he is running such a strong race.
Since Tisei jumped in the race, he's raised more money than Tierney, and almost all of it is from individual contributions from people who live in Massachusetts.
This program aired on March 9, 2012.