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With as many as 22 percent still undecided, a WBUR poll of voters (PDFs - topline, crosstabs) in the 6th Congressional District finds incumbent Democratic Rep. John Tierney leads his Republican challenger, former state Sen. Richard Tisei, by seven points.
It's clear from conversations with voters that many aren't even thinking about the congressional race yet. But most voters, 57 percent, say they have heard a "great deal" or a "fair amount" about the legal problems of Tierney's wife. She was convicted of being willfully blind to the fact that a bank account she handled for one of her brothers contained proceeds from illegal gambling operations.
It's one of the reasons Tierney is not well liked.
Testing The Waters With Voters
Every morning, a small group of North Shore residents settles aboard the ferry Nathaniel Bowditch for the 7 a.m. commute to Boston. Vin Brodie, from Marblehead, is among them. He calls Tierney arrogant.
"I never cared for Tierney, even before all this stuff came out, so I'm in favor of Tisei." Brodie said anybody would be better than Tierney.
Thirty percent of voters have an unfavorable opinion of Tierney in our poll. Just 35 percent have a favorable opinion of him. But Tisei is not well known. Twenty-five percent of voters say they have never heard of him.
Dee Cuffe, of Marblehead, has heard the name, but not much more.
"Honestly, I don't really know anything about John Tierney's opponent," Cuffe said.
Despite not being very well known, Tisei still has the lead among the voters who have heard at least a "fair amount" about the legal problems of Tierney's wife.
Outside Red's, a popular lunch spot in downtown Salem, Alan Waller, of Marblehead, is among those voters who want a change.
"I think we need to remove Tierney and elect Tisei," Waller said. But Waller thinks it will be an uphill battle for the Republican. After all, Democrats outnumber Republicans three to one in Massachusetts.
In the 6th Congressional District, Tierney has loyal support of people like Greg Cotraro, from Beverly. He's retired now from a life as a laborer.
"Concrete, jackhammers, pipelines, bridges, tunnels, dirt between the fingernails, that sort of labor," Cotraro said. "Sore back and I'm still hearing the ringing of all the machinery in my ears at the age of 66."
Cotraro is among the 39 percent of voters who support Tierney.
"I've been with Tierney," Cotraro said. "He's been for labor from day one, so I have to vote my sensitivities, which are for labor. So he's the man, all the best to him."
Even so, Cotraro sees why people like Tisei.
"Actually, Tisei looks like he's a reasonable sort of fellow, certainly not coming from the far right, so we have a fair choice," Cotraro said.
Thirty-two percent of likely voters say Tisei is their choice. Salem's Geri Pawlak is one of them.
"Tierney's so much part of a machine, and he has a scandal, and I'm thinking, you gotta wake up," said Pawlak, who thinks Tisei should win. "I think it should have an obvious outcome, but it won't."
Pawlak believes most voters will stick with Tierney.
Editor's Note: We regret the inadvertent omission of a third candidate, Libertarian Daniel Fishman, who is also running for a House seat in the 6th Congressional District. Six percent of voters said they would vote for Fishman.
This program aired on September 12, 2012.
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