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Eagle-Tribune - Tierney Campaign a 'Bootstrap Operation'

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Location: Lawrence, MA

Eagle-Tribune - Tierney Campaign a 'Bootstrap Operation'

By Edward Mason , Staff writer

Early on a hot Friday morning in August, Republican 5th District congressional candidate Thomas P. Tierney, 64, and his press secretary, Phillip Petros, are campaigning the old-fashioned way.

They drive up Route 114 in Lawrence; the trunk and back seat are stuffed with white-on-blue "Tom Tierney for Congress" signs and roll upon roll of tape. Their goal: put up 500 signs across the 5th District before Tuesday's primary. Petros picks a promising spot. Tierney holds the sign still while Petros drives it into the ground with a sledgehammer.

"We're a bootstrap operation," Tierney said.

In his fifth run for Congress, Tierney recognizes that, with his 500 signs and $20,000 in the bank, he has his work cut out against Republican Jim Ogonowski, a political newcomer with support of national Republicans and a war chest more than five-times as large. But he thinks he has a chance.

"We're using a blue collar approach," Tierney said. "He's using TV. We're using the Post Office. He has the Republican establishment; I have the regular rank and file - and we'll see how it breaks."

Tierney is plastering the district with signs that show his position on key issues. He says the campaign is about four issues - Iraq, Iraq, Iraq and health care. But there are no signs saying that.

"We'd have signs saying "Tom Tierney will Change The Mission in Iraq," but that's too much to put on a sign," Petros jokes.

Tierney, who opposes the Bush administration troop surge, hopes to ride that key difference with Ogonowski to victory Tuesday.

It's not an orthodox Republican view, but then again Tierney is not a typical Republican.

Tierney first ran for state Senate in 1976 as a Democrat. He ran for Congress in 1984 as a Republican, in 2000 as a Democrat before returning to the GOP fold in 2002. For Tierney, political parties are vehicles for elections. It's the issues that count.

His beliefs are influenced by a strong Catholic faith.

"You realize everything you have belongs to the Almighty," Tierney said. "It's God's property. There's an expectation that I use it responsibly by helping my fellow man."

So Tierney, unlike most Republicans, wants Congress not to renew the Bush tax cuts, which he calls "a disgrace."

It's also the reason why Tierney runs.

"It's an opportunity to make a difference," Tierney said. "I know it sounds like sloganeering, but it's true. I want to solve problems. I want to make it a better world."

Born in Salem, Tierney attended Catholic schools right up through college. Following college, Tierney joined the Marine Corps. After his discharge in 1965, Tierney needed a job. Good at math and needing money, Tierney became an actuary.

More than 40 years later, Tierney leans on his actuarial experience to rebuff Republican claims that Social Security is in trouble, one of his campaign themes.

Tierney lives in Framingham, which hasn't been in the 5th District since 1990. Tierney says when he first ran for Congress in 1984, Framingham was in the 5th District, and he considers himself home in the 5th.

Mary McHugh, a political scientist at Merrimack College, said Tierney has a shot. Tierney, she points out, has positioned himself closer than Ogonowski to the progressive Republicans like former U.S. Sen. Edward Brooke that Bay State voters have sent to Washington.

Moreover, local voters have pulled the lever for Tierney literally thousands of times over the years. In his last run, Tierney upset GOP favorite Ilana Freedman of Billerica.

"He's done the Don Quixote thing," McHugh said. "Maybe if you do it enough times, someone hears you."

Tierney's 2004 campaign was supposed to be his last. But he said at the time he wouldn't run again unless there was an open seat, and Meehan's decision to take the University of Massachusetts Lowell job created that opening. Tierney said this is likely his final run. While he has the fire of a much younger man, he's realistic.

"I will always have the passion," Tierney said. "But with each run it becomes tempered by realism."


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