The Luck of the Polish


They all laughed when I said we should pay some attention to Massachusetts' Fifth Congressional District. They said a Republican couldn't win even the least Democratic district in the bluest state. They were half right!

Democrat Niki Tsongas of Lowell defeated Republican James Ogonowski of Dracut today to capture the 5th District congressional seat vacated by Marty Meehan earlier this year.

With 195 of 195 precincts reporting, Tsongas captured 54,363 votes, or 51 percent compared to 47,770 votes, or 45 percent, for Ogonowski.

I said that if Ogonowski, a retired colonel whose brother was one of the murdered 9/11 pilots, won this seat, it would shatter Democratic momentum for 2008. He didn't win. He came about as close as Republican polling said he would two weeks ago. Stats whiz Patrick Ruffini, who scoffed at Democrats who called the 2005 Paul Hackett defeat a "win" (being smarter than the rest of us, Ruffini occasionally scrubs his archives), thinks Ogonowski has written the 2008 GOP playbook.

It's simple: the change message works. America is anti-Washington, anti-Congress, and anti-corruption. When that's where Republicans are, they win… All you need is a plain-spoken veteran with an extraordinary life story. We need more citizen-candidates like Jim Ogonowski.

Well, true, but neither party is brimming with farmer-soldiers whose brothers died on 9/11 and who are ready to work themselves ragged. (Ogonowski lost 40 pounds during the campaign.) And like I mentioned last week, it seemed truly odd that Ogonowski spent the weeks between the primary and the special election hitting Tsongas, Bush and Democrats for wanting to give amnesty or drivers' licenses to undocumented workers. His answer when reporters asked him about SCHIP (since the election winner would be sworn in for the vote this week) was that the Democrats' SCHIP bill would give health care to illegal immigrants. It wouldn't, but it was neatly folded into a ploy that, as usual, didn't work. Voters will tell pollsters they oppose stuff like this but they don't think of it first when they vote, and they struggle with candidates who seem obsessed by it.