West Warwick’s Tencher at the center of white-hot US Senate fight in Indiana

Sep 28, 2012

After years of building his political credentials, West Warwick native Paul Tencher is at the center of one of the nation’s closest, hardest-fought US Senate races — the Indiana fight between Democrat Joe Donnelly and Republican Richard Mourdock.

Tencher is the campaign manager for Donnelly, the congressman seeking to succeed Richard Lugar in the Senate  (Donnelly’s media team includes former Jack Reed aide J.B. Poersch). Mourdock is aligned with the Tea Party wing of the GOP. Yesterday, the Fix moved the race from “leans Republican” to “tossup” and offered this analysis:

Republicans have a straightforward message in this race: A vote for Donnelly is a vote for President Obama and his policies. Given the partisan tilt of the state, that’s a refrain that should have legs down the stretch. But that doesn’t absolve Mourdock of the responsibility of building more momentum. He’ll have to convince the electorate that he is preferable to the alternate choice the GOP has set up. So far, he does not appear to have sealed the deal.

For Tencher, his central role in this fight comes just five years after he was portrayed by a child actor — a reflection of his mid-20-something status as Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts’ chief of staff — during the annual Providence Newspaper Guild Follies.

But helming a campaign in a high-profile fight also follows Tencher’s persistent path in a series of political jobs in Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, D.C. A 2009 profile in The Hill notes how Tencher took some useful advice as a student at Seton Hall from James Carville.

The famous bald-pated CNN commentator and former aide to President Clinton told Tencher that he could intern in his office but that he would learn more if he volunteered for a local campaign and worked his way up from there (the idea being that Tencher, at some point, would be sleeping on a stranger’s couch while volunteering).

Tencher took Carville’s words to heart. He called the New Jersey Democratic Party and offered his services on a 2002 congressional campaign.

Tencher went on to work for Roberts, Deb Markowitz’s Vermont gubernatorial campaign, and former US Representative Mary Jo Kilroy, among others. Via email, he gives a shoutout to the Ocean State:

I was lucky to learn politics in my home state from people like Jenn Bramley, Bill Fischer and Barbara Cottam. I got the chance to have incredible friends in the business like Tony Simon, Dan Meuse and Matt Thornton. I have been blessed with this support that helped me do a job that I love and one that makes a difference every day.

Joe Donnelly is a small businessman and dad to a wonderful family. He’s a Notre Dame guy, a great Irish-American and genuinely one of the nicest human beings I have ever met. When I first sat down with him to talk about the campaign, he reminded me a lot of my dad and that comfort level was very important.

Here’s how Tencher frames the fight between Donnelly, and Mourdock:

The stakes in this election are high because the choice is so stark. Do we replace a statesman like Sen. Dick Lugar with a TEA Party champion who believes we need to “inflict our opinion” on those that we don’t always agree with? Or should Hoosiers choose someone that is committed to getting our economy back on track no matter who gets the credit? Many Hoosiers are choosing Joe Donnelly because of his common sense commitment to our families.

Meanwhile, Tencher hasn’t forgotten about the Ocean State:

I have really enjoyed living in Indianapolis, but I am excited to return home. I know there is a plate of wieners waiting for me at a New York System in Olneyville and my mom has already made reservations at Wright’s Farm. I could go on for lots of column inches about the food I am looking forward to eating in my native state, but I’ll stop there. Ok…Caserta’s.