BOSTON (AP) — For months, state and national Republican groups have been criticizing Democratic Rep. John Tierney in Massachusetts' 6th Congressional District as an extreme partisan on the far left, hoping to leave him politically wounded and vulnerable to GOP challenger Richard Tisei in the November election.
Republicans may have done their job too well.
After Democratic voters bounced Tierney in Tuesday's primary in favor of newcomer Seth Moulton, Tisei will no longer be facing a nine-term Democratic incumbent with suitcases of political baggage.
Instead, he's running against a 35-year-old former Marine and Iraq War veteran who just pulled off the first successful primary challenge to a sitting Massachusetts congressman in two decades.
Moulton, who lives in Salem, unseated Tierney in the northeastern Massachusetts district in part by making the argument that he stood a better chance to defeat Tisei.
Tierney barely survived a challenge from Tisei two years ago. At the time, Tierney was hobbled by questions about what he knew of an illegal offshore gambling ring involving his wife's family.
Tierney eked out a win, sharing the 2012 ballot with fellow Democrats President Barack Obama and Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren. Republicans were confident that without those political coattails this year, Tisei could have bested Tierney.
Now Tisei has to craft a strategy to win against a candidate with few political drawbacks and a far different personal story. He began that task just hours after primary voting ended, saying Moulton would take the same votes as Tierney and "rubber stamp the failed direction Washington is taking our country."
Tisei, who served for 26 years in the state legislature before running a failed bid for lieutenant governor in 2010, says he's the true face of change. The Wakefield resident, who is gay and married, said he got used to working with Democrats at the statehouse, where Republicans are vastly outnumbered.
He also said it would help Massachusetts to have at least one Republican in the GOP-controlled House. Democrats currently hold every Massachusetts seat in Congress. The state's last two Republican House members both lost re-election bids in 1996.
"We need someone in Washington who can hit the ground running," Tisei said. "I have a good grasp of the issues and I understand how the state government interacts with the federal government."
Moulton is also making a bipartisan pitch, saying he wants to earn the trust of all voters.
"There's an awful lot of work that we need to get done and we can only do that if we work together, but it's not about compromising principles, it's about finding common ground," he said. "It's finding where your values intersect with the other side."
National Republicans are also reassessing the contest, which they see as their best chance of picking up a seat in Massachusetts.
Another factor in Moulton's win was his fundraising prowess. He raised nearly as much as Tierney. Now he'll have to quickly replenish his account.