There has been a fair amount of chatter about Massachusetts’ Tsongas-Ogonowski congressional race, especially on the left side of the blogosphere. I haven’t seen detailed exit poll data yet, but if the trends in the last public polling held, even in defeat Republican Jim Ogonowski carried independents and voters under 35. This was a decent showing by a good candidate, who Republicans would be wise to keep an eye on in the future.
But let’s not get carried away. Former Congressman Marty Meehan, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and the inept Massachusetts Republican Party have made the Fifth District appear more solidly Democratic than it really is. Ronald Reagan carried the Fifth twice; George H.W. Bush beat native son Michael Dukakis there in 1988. Even George W. Bush, who is very unpopular in the Bay State, managed to break 40 percent there against John Kerry in 2004. In gubernatorial elections, Bill Weld, Paul Cellucci, and Mitt Romney all won the district. Deval Patrick took just 51 percent there even though he won by 20 points statewide. The district was represented by Republicans in Congress until Paul Tsongas was elected in 1974. One of the district’s Democratic strongholds, the city of Lawrence, has a Republican mayor. The other, Lowell, has also elected Republicans in the past.
A good Republican candidate can be expected to get 40 percent of the vote in the Fifth. The state party simply hasn’t seriously contested it in years. With an open seat and a weak Democratic candidate thrown in, it is only the relative weakness of the GOP brand that kept them from sending Mr. Ogonowski to Washington. Democrat and Republican bloggers shouldn’t be so quick to ascribe his showing to the power of “change.”
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