A gay Republican candidate who was recently dismissed as having little chance to win election to a U.S. House seat has now a narrow lead over his Democratic opponent, according to a recent poll.
The Emerson College poll was made public on Wednesday and finds Richard Tisei, a Republican former state senator, has a two-point lead against Seth Moulton, a political newcomer and Iraq war veteran. The two are competing to represent Massachusetts’ 6th congressional district in the U.S. House.
Tisei leads Moulton 41-39, according to the poll, which was was conducted among 429 likely voters between Sept. 26 and Sept. 29.
As the Wall Street Journal notes, those numbers stand in contrast to an earlier poll just after the primary in the state last month showing Moulton with an eight-point lead against Tisei.
One explanation for the surge is what’s on the mind of Massachusetts voters. According to the poll, 23 percent of likely voters identified defense and national security as their top concern.
Even though Moulton is a veteran, concern over national security seems to benefit Tisei by a wide margin. Of those who identified it as the most important issue, 52 percent said they back Tisei, compared to 32 percent who back Moulton.
A greater percentage of voters, 30 percent, said the economy was their top priority. Among this group, Tisei enjoys 46 percent support compared to 33 percent support for Moulton.
Before the primary, Tisei had actually enjoyed a lead in the race when his presumed opponent was incumbent Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.), an LGBT-supportive candidate who was hampered by a family gambling scandal. But the nine-term House Democrat was ousted in the primary by Moulton, a surprise result that shook up the race.
The race had stirred controversy in the LGBT community. The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund had endorsed Tisei and he would be the first non-incumbent Republican elected to Congress if he’s successful in his bid.
But other LGBT advocates continued to back the Democratic candidate because Tisei’s first vote in Congress would be for Republican leadership, which hasn’t advanced LGBT rights.
Denis Dison, a spokesperson for the Victory Fund, made the case for Tisei’s candidacy when asked about the new poll.
“In addition to being the most experienced and best-qualified candidate in the race, Tisei would add a much-needed voice in the GOP House Caucus — that of a married, openly gay man who will be an advocate for freedom and fairness for all LGBT Americans,” Dison said.
It’s not the first time Tisei has pursued the U.S. House seat. In 2012, he ran against Tierney, but lost by a mere 1 percent at a time when President Obama and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) were both on the ballot.