On Politics On PoliticsOn Politics
Analysis and perspective about what's happening in the political realm.

A Race to Watch

Since winning their majority status in November, Democratic leaders in Congress have been struggling to find the right approach to opposing the war in Iraq. A vocal segment of their party wants out of Iraq yesterday. A less vocal segment worries that a precipitous withdrawal could turn Iraq into an even greater menace than it was before the U.S. invasion.

Complicating matters is the inconvenient truth that the Democratic leaders don't have enough votes in Congress to force an end to the war. Nevertheless, some Democratic strategists say that the best way to win more votes is to keep up the drumbeat on the war. Others worry that the party will have few accomplishments at the end of this Congress if it doesn't move on to other issues.

Calibrating the right approach is as much an art as a science. Congress has seen its collective job-approval ratings plummet to a record low in the teens, and the approval ratings for "Democrats in Congress" are scarcely higher than those for "Republicans in Congress." A just-released ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 35 percent of Americans thought that the Democrats in Congress had gone too far in their opposition to the war, but 55 percent of respondents felt that Democrats hadn't gone far enough.

Against this backdrop is an October 16 special election in the 5th Congressional District of Massachusetts to succeed Rep. Martin Meehan, who left in July to become chancellor of the University of Massachusetts (Lowell). The contest in this heavily blue district pits Democrat Niki Tsongas, the widow of former 5th District Rep. and U.S. Sen. Paul Tsongas, against Jim Ogonowski, brother of John Ogonowski, who piloted one of the planes that was hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Tsongas, 61, who won the Democratic primary with a 36 percent plurality, has served as dean of external affairs at Middlesex Community College for the past 10 years. Ogonowski, 49, who was the near-unanimous choice in a sparsely contested GOP primary, served for 28 years in the Air Force and Air National Guard.

Under any normal circumstances, a congressional race in this district would be a gimme for Democrats, but party strategists do not dispute that the race is closer than one might expect. Former President Clinton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were recently dispatched to the state to rally support for Tsongas.

One Democratic pollster, Massachusetts native Brad Bannon, suggests that Democratic voters in the district might be in a surly mood because of their party's inability to bring a conclusion to the war.

"More than anything else," Bannon argues, "voters elected the new Democratic congressional majority to end the war. To protect their majority, congressional Democrats will need to bite the bullet and take a hard line to get American combat troops out of Iraq."

Bannon believes that some anti-war voters might stay home on Election Day 2008 or vote for anti-war independent candidates. In this regard, he thinks the 5th District race could be a harbinger of problems ahead for the Democrats.

This special election might be close for other reasons. For years, Massachusetts voters have endured numerous controversies involving politically active college and university officials who have turned higher-education posts into patronage plums. As Tsongas seeks to follow in the footsteps of an outgoing House member who left to become chancellor of the district's largest university, she must be wary of the perception of a revolving door between higher education and public office in the Bay State.

In this kind of political climate, Ogonowski has been smart to run as the political outsider and paint his campaign as a David-versus-Goliath struggle. His ads do not mention his party affiliation but instead declare, "Congress is broken," and portray him as the candidate willing to bring change to Washington.

Although Ogonowski still faces a decidedly uphill battle, the national GOP would probably be thrilled with anything less than a double-digit victory for Tsongas. Such a result, they might argue, would lend credence to the theory that come 2008, voters will be willing to take their anger out on Democrats too.

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.