The only certainty about Massachusetts' congressional delegation after the Nov. 6 election is that it will be smaller.
The state will hold nine House seats when the next Congress is seated in January, one fewer than now, because of population shifts measured by the 2010 U.S. census. It's hardly a new trend: Massachusetts has lost a seat after three of the last four census reports, meaning its House delegation has shrunk in size — and perhaps in influence — by 25 percent over four decades.
The new district map, which gets its first electoral shakedown next month, likely hastened the retirements of two veteran Democrats, Reps. Barney Frank and John Olver. It also forced freshman Democratic Rep. William Keating to move his primary residence from Quincy to Cape Cod to run in a reshaped district.
Otherwise, it does not appear that redistricting has played a prominent role in congressional races this fall. By far, the most heated and closely-watched campaign has been in the 6th District, consisting of much of the North Shore, where former state Sen. Richard Tisei is making a strong bid to become the first Massachusetts Republican elected to the House since 1994.
Another race attracting attention is the one to succeed Frank in the 4th District, where Joseph Kennedy III is seeking to be the first of his famous political family's generation to win office.
Tisei is trying to unseat Rep. John Tierney, an eight-term Democrat who's been dogged by fallout from a criminal case involving his wife's family. Patrice Tierney was sentenced to 30 days in prison by a federal judge last year for helping one of her two brothers, who have been implicated in an illegal offshore gambling ring, file false tax returns.
John Tierney has not been charged, but Tisei alleges that Tierney has not leveled with voters about what he knew of the gambling operation and that he benefited financially from it. The incumbent has countered by accusing Tisei of a smear campaign and of allowing himself to be aligned with extremists in his party.
Outside groups not directly affiliated with either campaign have spent more than $4.7 million on the race, according to Federal Election Commission records, with Tisei the beneficiary of about three-quarters of the independent expenditures.
"This campaign should never have had these outside groups in there," Tierney said. "I offered my opponent the opportunity to make the same deal that Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren made to keep these noxious groups out, get that dirty money out."
Tierney was referring to the agreement in the Massachusetts U.S. Senate race to prevent super PAC ads. Tierney and Tisei discussed a similar arrangement, but the Republican wanted to ban donations from PACs to the campaigns themselves, which Tierney did not accept.
Tisei has bristled at Tierney's attempt to tie him to the far right.
"This whole cookie cutter campaign that he's been running, that I'm a tea party extremist, people are laughing at him because it's ridiculous. It doesn't make any sense," he said.
Tisei, who is openly gay, describes himself as a moderate, pro-abortion rights Republican who would not be a "rubber stamp" for his party in Congress. As a state senator, he said, he voted against GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney 46 percent of the time during Romney's four years as governor.
"For a congressman who already has credibility problems to run a campaign the way he has run it has only intensified what people feel about him, that he is not being honest," Tisei said of Tierney.
But the Democrat defended his criticism, saying Tisei would support a House Republican leadership that's out of step with the district.
"Their plan is to give tax cuts to millionaires and then wait around and see what happens," Tierney said.
Libertarian Daniel Fishman is also on the ballot.
Kennedy, 32, had raised an eye-opening $3.8 million for his campaign through Sept. 30, more than double that of any incumbent Massachusetts House Democrat. The son of former U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II and grandson of the late U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy is seeking the nod of voters in a redrawn 4th District, which stretches from Boston's affluent western suburbs to working-class cities in southeastern Massachusetts.
Republican Sean Bielat, a 37-year-old businessman and U.S. Marine reservist from Norfolk who unsuccessfully challenged Frank two years ago, has stressed his business and military experience while questioning whether Kennedy is even qualified to run for Congress.
When Bielat suggested during a debate that Kennedy's candidacy wouldn't be taken seriously in any other state, it was an echo of a famous quip during another debate a half-century ago, when Kennedy's great-uncle, the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, was running for the first time.
A Democratic rival, Edward McCormack, suggested in 1962 that if his opponent's name was Edward Moore instead of Edward Moore Kennedy, his candidacy would be a joke. Kennedy would go on to serve 47 years.
Joseph Kennedy III says he's proud of his family's political heritage and fundraising connections, but he intends to earn every vote on his own through a strong grassroots campaign.
There are four other contested U.S. House elections in Massachusetts.
-- Keating, seeking a second term, faces Republican Christopher Sheldon, a Plymouth businessman, in the redrawn 9th district, which includes Cape Cod and the Islands, and much of the South Shore. Independent Daniel Botelho is also on the ballot.
-- U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas of Lowell, the widow of former U.S. Sen. Paul Tsongas, is seeking her third full term in the House in the new 3rd District. Republican Jon Golnick, a Carlisle businessman, also challenged Tsongas in 2010.
-- In the 8th District, U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch, seeking his seventh full term, faces Republican Joe Selvaggi, a software firm executive from Boston.
-- U.S. Rep. Edward Markey of Malden, the longest-serving member of the state's congressional delegation, is opposed by Tom Tierney, a Framingham actuary, in the 5th District.
This program aired on October 28, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.