I’m taking the 5th

( – promoted by Patrick)

As a keyboard activist sitting on the sidelines, I don’t have to recover emotionally or physically from yesterday’s Special Election in the 5th Congressional District, giving me the luxury of punditizing (is that a word?) early about the race. 

EaBo was right when he said this was an uphill, but still very winnable, seat for Republicans.  But in the end, this race was about tired talking points verses tired talking points and the campaign with other advantages-money, party organization and voter registration-won in a most unimpressive way.

Niki Tsongas ran a lackluster campaign, with a narrative “ripped from the headlines” of the 2006 election.  She made some mistakes, but they weren’t bad.  What she did was run a safe-frontrunner-campaign and hoped like hell that no one in the Primary (which was the big worry) or the Republican challenger would break through the apathy of a special election and steal the race from her.

Ogonowski could have been that guy but in the end, his inexperience as a public personality and some bad strategic calls resulted in a “draw” with Tsongas-a draw that Democrats win in Massachusetts.

But even the rough edges of his “public personality”-his debate style definitely needs work-could be turned into a strength, if his “everyday guy who wants to change politics-as-usual” narrative truly was the narrative of the campaign.  But as the campaign got closer to the end, Jim the outsider started to sound like a Republican cutout candidate-just a mirror image of Tsongas.  I’m speaking of the one-note issue of immigration.  I know EaBo and others think this is a “winning” issue, but I’d like to know when it won an election around here?  I’m sure it won some votes-in the Dracut, Chelmsford-like areas, but I’ll bet it cost votes also.  Ogo lost Lawrence (72% for Niki) by a bigger margin than Concord (69 %) and one has to attribute that to an anti-anti immigration backlash. 

More to the point, the complete focus on illegal immigrants in the last weeks of the campaign made Ogo sound like a rightwing talk radio host and not the reformer he sounded like earlier in the election. 

And then we had the SCHIP issue, which I think lost him an enormous amount of credibility with voters and probably the endorsement of either or both the Herald and Lowell Sun.  There were only three answers to this question and Ogo picked by far the worst answer.  The best “political” answer would have been to vote to override the Bush veto-establishing his independence to Bush but still giving him plenty cover as a “Republican” because of the fair amount of Republican support in Congress for SCHIP.  The second best answer was to say he would not vote to override the veto and take the hit that he was a Bush clone.  But to avoid the question with a weak-kneed answer that he wasn’t going to be drawn into “partisan politics” was horrible and at that point the election was won by the Dems.

But it was on the issue of Iraq that the campaign was the most unimaginative and could have used it to paint Niki as a fraud and create Ogo as the true “Mr. Smith” going to Washington. 

The first part of Jim’s Iraq position, that went something like this, “I opposed the initial invasion because I did not see an immediate threat to the US and then the Bush Administration miss handled the war and we need to hold them accountable” goes down very smooth to the voters looking for a serious candidate that wants to work for ALL Americans.  But then Ogo finishes off sounding like John McCain, spouting off about staying in until the “job is finished”, to which many people translates to “open-ended blank check” and would fall into line with the Tsongas crap about her ending the war.

Instead of the open-ended/blank-check answer, if Ogo ended that Iraq policy issue with something like this…”I want our troops out was soon as possible.  But we don’t know what’s around the corner-Turkey has been massing troops on the border to Iraq threatening invasion (which has been true for months), terrorists could cripple an oil pipeline and cause panic or the sectarian violence could result in genocide.  We can’t let that happen and Mrs. Tsongas is being dishonest telling you she will end the war.  Most of the Democratic Congress understands these complex issues, the three leading Democrats for President understand it, I certainly understand it and I think Mrs. Tsongas understands it.  The difference is, I have the courage to tell you the truth, she does not.  That’s because I’m not part of the system…blah, blah, blah you get the drift.

So my basic point is that IF the Ogonowski campaign offered a fresh dynamic to contrast his differences with Tsongas, he would have won.  Instead we had consultants using plays from the same old playbooks.  When that happens, Republicans tend to win in states like Alabama and Democrats tend to win in states like Massachusetts.

I am curious, do folks here think that all you needed was a few more days to hammer the same themes (but there was only one theme in the closing days–anti-immigrants) and you would have won?  Or was it simply a rough around the edges candidate that made the SCHIP mistake and wait for next year?  Or was it, as I suggest, more fundamental?  And to win, Republicans need a fresh approach than illegal aliens and rapist’s in a garage?

About Festus Garvey