Massachusetts’ 6th Congressional District’s 1996 and 2012 Elections: a History of MA-06

(Good analysis – promoted by Rob “EaBo Clipper” Eno)

This diary was cross-posted from

Introduction: a Political and Geographic History of the 6th Congressional District

       Since the redistricting of 1890, Massachusetts’ 6th Congressional district has been the North Shore’s seat in the United States House of Representatives. The Salem-based district historically stretched from Salem to the south up to Salisbury at the New Hampshire border, and stretched from Cape Anne’s towns of Gloucester and Rockport to the east towards Middleton, Boxford, Groveland, and Haverhill in the west. Over the years, due to Massachusetts’ losing of multiple seats in reapportionment, the 6th district grew to its west and south. At various points before 1990, it added gritty Lynn (Lynn, the city of sin), Peabody, North Andover, Lynnfield, Saugus, North Reading, Reading, and Wilmington.

       For a gallery of Congressional maps from over the years, check this site from the Massachusetts Legislature out:…

       From 1887 to 1969, the 6th district was held by a series of Republicans. The quaint, North Shore towns north of Salem were traditionally a Republican stronghold. Salem and Lynn always provided a Democratic base in the district, but Republicans did well enough on the North Shore to offset Democratic margins in the district’s cities. However, as the district grew to the west and as party composition began to change, the 6th district would soon fall into Democratic hands for all but four years since 1969.

       Lynn and Salem became even more Democratic, Gloucester trended leftwards, and the once-heavily Republican North Shore towns stretching from Beverly to Salisbury trended towards the left as commuter rail, better highways, and suburbanization in general caused those towns to grow. A large, ethnic, Democratic population in towns like Peabody and cities like Lynn, Haverhill, and Salem helped flip the district to State Rep. Michael Harrington (D-Salem) in a 1969 special election. Harrington would hold the seat for just under a decade, serving four whole terms before retiring. Peabody Mayor and Democrat Nicholas Mavroules took over the 6th district after Harrington retired and became a power player in the House. Mavroules took advantage of having a large Greek population in Peabody and Salem, helping financially propel him to victory in his initial primary.

       Nick Mavroules served on the House Armed Services Committee and used his role to bring home large amounts of federal money to his district. Mavroules became extremely popular in particular in Salem, Lynn, and Peabody, and his margins in those towns and cities helped him gain a strong foothold on the district.

       Meanwhile, in Danvers, 26-year-old Peter Torkildsen rode the Ronald Reagan re-election wave and stunned the Massachusetts political world when he defeated John Murphy, the State House Majority Leader, by two points. At the same time, Richard R. Tisei, a 22-year-old recent college graduate, won an open seat in the State House from a district containing Lynnfield and Wakefield. Torkildsen would serve for three terms in the 13th Essex district before serving as the Massachusetts Commissioner of Labor and Industries for two years. Tisei would serve in the State Legislature until 2010, opting to stay in the legislature instead of running a race for Congress in the 7th district against Ed Markey in 1994, even after Pennsylvania US Senator Arlen Specter asked him to.


The 1992 Election for Massachusetts’ 6th Congressional District

       Nick Mavroules looked safe in his district, even after ethics investigations early in his career, until, according to Wikipedia, he was “indicted on seventeen counts of corruption amid a federal investigation into alleged misuse of his office for private gain. Allegations included extortion, accepting illegal gifts and failing to report them on [C]ongressional disclosure and income tax forms.”

       Mavroules opted to run for reelection, but Peter Torkildsen defeated him by 10 points through winning every town in the district outside of Lynn, Salem, Nahant, Peabody, and Swampscott.

The 1994 Election for Massachusetts’ 6th Congressional District

       In 1994, Torkildsen defeated Salem attorney John F. Tierney by three points (50.5%-47.4% with 2.1% of the vote going to an independent candidate) in a strong year for Republicans nationwide. Torkildsen looked to be popular in the 6th district, but the prospect Presidential year turnout in 1996 ensured that the Torkildsen/Tierney rematch would be one of the nation’s most competitive races.

The 1996 Election for Massachusetts’ 6th Congressional District

      John F. Tierney, the nephew of a former Peabody City Councilman geared up for a rematch with Peter Torkildsen in 1996. Unfortunately for Torkildsen, Tierney had a better political climate to run in in 1996. Torkildsen ran extremely well throughout the North Shore, seemingly well enough to be reelected when the numbers are analyzed independently of the rest of the district.

       However, Torkildsen’s downfall would be generally poor performances in the western flank of the district and high rates of urban turnout. Combined with Tierney’s deep connections throughout the Salem area, considering he grew up and went to college and law school in Salem and then practiced law in Salem, high urban turnout really sunk Torkildsen.

       Additionally, while a third party candidate did take 8% of the vote in Lynn, sucking away some votes from Tierney, Torkildsen was clearly hurt by the presence of third party candidates in the race. A Conservative Party candidate actually took 2,549 votes district-wide, a sum 6.8x larger than Tierney’s margin of victory. Supposedly, an under-vote of conservatives in the district was organized in order to prove to Torkildsen that their votes could not be taken for granted after he angered conservatives due to, amongst other things, voting for the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994.

       Finally, Torkildsen ran disappointingly in the working/middle class towns of Wilmington, Saugus, and Burlington. Torkildsen’s weak performances in those towns can partially be attributed to Tierney’s status as a more working-class candidate, considering his Salem background.

       On election night, John Tierney was sent to Congress by a margin of 362 votes. The 6th district was, once again, taken out of Republican hands.

1996 6th District Election Map

       Below is a map that shows how Peter Torkildsen performed against John Tierney in each of the towns and cities of the district.

Color Key:

Navy: 63+% Tierney

Blue: 57-63% Tierney

Dodger Blue: 53-57% Tierney

Sky blue: 50-53% Tierney

Salmon: 50-53% Torkildsen

Red: 53-57% Torkildsen

Crimson: 57-63+% Torkildsen

Reddish Brown: 63+% Torkildsen

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The 1998 Election for Massachusetts’ 6th Congressional District

       After such a narrow defeat in 1996, ex-Rep Peter Torkildsen decided to challenge then-freshman Rep John Tierney in the 1998 midterm elections. Considering that midterm elections tend to have favorable political climates for the party not controlling the White House, Torkildsen felt confident about his chances about the narrowly-elected Tierney. Torkildsen was even endorsed by the usually-liberal Boston Globe. However, the national climate, in somewhat of an anomaly, was strongly anti-Republican that year largely thanks to the impeachment proceedings led against President Bill Clinton by Congressional Republicans.

       While the race was considered competitive until November, Tierney thumped Torkildsen 54.6-42.4, a margin of 12.2%. Tierney would settle into the district over the next decade and a half, even as it dropped Haverhill and picked up Wakefield (home of Richard Tisei) and the rest of Reading.

John Tierney’s Troubles and the 2010 Election for Massachusetts’ 6th Congressional District

       John Tierney seemed safe in the generally Democratic-trending 6th district until his sister was indicted, and subsequently convicted, of filing falsified tax returns behalf of her brothers’ illegal offshore gambling operation. Tierney was embroiled in scandal, but his wife’s October conviction happened so late in the cycle that Republicans had both no time to recruit a serious nominee and no time to widely publicize Tierney’s woes. As a result, Tierney won the 2010 race for the 6th district by a margin of 57%-43%. Regardless, that was the lowest percentage that Tierney was held to since his 1998 defeat of Peter Torkildsen in their rematch.

The 2012 Election for Massachusetts’ 6th Congressional District

       Republicans smelled blood in the water off the coast of the North Shore thanks to John Tierney’s weak 2010 performance against a Tea Party candidate who himself was embroiled in controversy over a racy Halloween decoration depicting Barack Obama as Osama Bin Laden put up outside of his house during the Halloween of 2009. Additionally, the gain of the Republican-leaning Merrimack Valley towns of Tewksbury and Billerica, along with a moderate slice of Andover, conveniently moved the 6th district slightly to the right. In a boon, Republicans scored possibly their best possible recruit when former State Senator Richard Tisei of Wakefield decided to run for Congress after losing a bid for Lt. Gov in 2010.

       Senator Tisei, openly gay and socially moderate-to-liberal, appealed to the same North Shore constituency that Torkildsen did, though perhaps to a lesser extent thanks to his inland Lynnfield/Wakefield base being less familiar to residents of the North Shore than Torkildsen’s Danvers base.

       For more information on the 2012 race for Massachusetts’ 6th Congressional district, check out this link to my detailed, statistics-based article on it. Note that plenty of result maps are included:…

       At the end of the day, Richard Tisei lost by a margin of 1.2%, 48.3% to 47.1%. A Libertarian candidate likely stole potential votes from Tisei, whose loss shocked national observers. Presidential turnout likely saved John Tierney, but some of Tisei’s performances in certain parts of the district disappointed.

Comparing Tisei’s 2012 Loss To Torkildsen’s 1996 Loss

       Tisei’s 1.2% loss (or in 2012 was the closest race for the 6th district since Torkildsen’s .2% loss in 1996. When the 1990s version of the 6th district and the 2012 are overlain and all towns that were not included in both districts are dropped,  Torkildsen actually won the 1996 race by a slight margin. That means that, without Haverhill, which was dropped in the 2001 redistricting map, Torkildsen would have won the 1996 race. Additionally, in the shared areas of the district Tisei ran just over two points behind how Torkildsen ran in his 1996 loss.

       How did Torkildsen and Tisei’s performances compare in the towns and cities of the 6th district that were shared by the 1996 and 2012 versions of the 6th district (the vast majority of the district)?

       Below is a map that shows how Richard Tisei performed in 2012 relative to how Peter Torkildsen performed in 1996.

Color Key:

Navy: 9-12% behind Torkildsen

Blue: 6-9% behind Torkildsen

Dodger Blue: 3-6% behind Torkildsen

Sky blue: 0-3% behind Torkildsen

Salmon: 0-3% in front of Torkildsen

Red: 3-6% in front of Torkildsen

Crimson: 6-9+% in front of Torkildsen

Reddish Brown: 9-12+% in front of Torkildsen

 photo ScreenShot2013-04-05at113929PM_zpsfbeda74e.png

Analyzing Richard Tisei’s 2012 Performance Compared to Peter Torkildsen’s 1996 Performance

       Richard Tisei clearly underperformed Peter Torkildsen’s 1996 showing on the North Shore, especially in the towns stretching from Danvers through Cape Ann to Rockport and then all the way up to Newburyport. In his defense, these areas have moved leftward since 1996 but, due to his ethics woes, they should have been far easier to turn against John Tierney.

       Additionally, Tisei fell through the floor in the small, MetroWest town of Bedford. Bedford has trended leftward rapidly over the past decade in a half, again meaning that Tisei had little control over his underperformance there compared to Torkildsen’s.

       Tisei held up rather well in Salem, compared to Peter Torkildsen, which is surprising considering John Tierney is a Salem resident. However, Tierney’s initial hometown boost must have somewhat warn away when his alleged knowledge of the existence and illegality of his wife’s family’s illegal gambling operation and its activities came to light. Therefore, Tierney’s performance likely somewhat fall from grace in Salem, but demographic changes still caused Salem to trend leftwards.

       While he held up well in Salem compared to Torkildsen, Tisei, rapidly diversifying Lynn was a different story. Tisei ran horribly behind Tierney in Lynn, something that would be hard for him to have rectified.

       So, where did Tisei perform better than Torkildsen? Political changes in the blue collar portions of the district and towns from Tisei’s old Senate district helped propel him in front of Torkildsen in those areas. Saugus, Burlington, and Wilmington were all won by Tisei after being won by Tierney in 1996. Burlington and Wilmington have experienced more development and some gentrification in the past decade and a half, helping to move their politics rightward. Peabody, which strongly resented Peter Torkildsen for taking down its own Nick Mavroules and which has trended rightward over the year, was a vast improvement for Tisei over Torkildsen.

       Additionally, Richard Tisei ran well ahead of Torkildsen in Lynnfield and the portion of Reading the 1996 and 2012 versions of the 6th district share.  

Conclusion and Looking Forward to Future Elections for Massachusetts’ 6th Congressional District

       If Richard Tisei runs again, he’ll have to figure out how to perform stronger on the North Shore. While his campaign team spend time in Salem and Lynn in 2012, those cities, especially in a midterm, should be deprioritized, electorally speaking.

       If Richard Tisei does not run again, Cape Ann’s Republican State Senator, Bruce Tarr, could run for the 6th district and would, hopefully, improve on Tisei’s performances on the North Shore and on Cape Ann.

       Unfortunately, other than the blue collar or middle class areas in the western shared parts of the 1996 and 2012 districts, much of MA-06 has trended left since 1996. The North Shore has been turned off by the social conservatism of the national GOP and Lynn and Salem have changed, demographically.

       The 6th district can be returned to the GOP’s hands, but our nominee would not only need to get better numbers than Tisei did in 2012, they would need to do even better than Tisei did in the Republican-trending (over the long term), blue collar, middle class towns in the 1996 and 2012 versions of the 6th districts (like Burlington, Saugus, and Wilmington) as well as Tewksbury and Billerica (which were not in the 1996 version of Massachusetts’ 6th Congressional district). A stronger performance in Peabody is also important, and a candidate with some blue collar appeal could win Peabody when running for Congress (just like Charlie Baker and Scott Brown did).

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