Donoghue looks to upset Tsongas in Massachusetts special primary

For months, Niki TsongasNicola (Niki) Sauvage TsongasMassachusetts New Members 2019 Dem House candidate says she'll file Clarence Thomas impeachment resolution if elected Lawmakers demand action, hearing in response to VA improperly denying sexual trauma claims MORE has polled as the clear front-runner in Tuesday’s crowded Democratic primary to fill former Rep. Marty Meehan’s (D-Mass.) seat. But Lowell City Councilor Eileen Donoghue is not going quietly.

With a $165,000 cash infusion from her own pockets, Donoghue went up with her first TV ad last week, and she has gone after Tsongas hard in debates and the media.

A poll in the race last week showed Donoghue closing the gap, and she believes the race comes down to her versus Tsongas on Tuesday.

“What we’re seeing, hearing, feeling is that it’s a two-person race,” Donoghue said Friday. “Over the last week, there’s been a definite shift in the race, in momentum.

“Really, people are just starting to pay attention to the race.”

Tsongas has often polled 20 points ahead of her four opponents, but a SurveyUSA poll conducted mostly after Donoghue’s ad launch and a heated debate on Aug. 27 showed Donoghue closing to 40-29 percent. She maintains she’s even closer than that.

Still, uncertainty about turnout the day after Labor Day is giving campaigns pause when making any predictions.
Tsongas said she isn’t taking anything for granted.

“I take everybody seriously; everybody has a base from which they derive some strength, so we’ve run a campaign across the district,” Tsongas said.

Two months ago, Donoghue was snubbed by EMILY’s List in favor of Tsongas, a political neophyte with a golden name. Former Sen. Paul Tsongas’s (D) widow has used her name and connections to maintain a healthy lead in fundraising and the polls throughout the race for her husband’s old House seat.

Tsongas has attracted the backing of Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) as well as $2,000 each  from Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Dan Boren (D-Okla.), according to CQ MoneyLine. The Boston Herald and Boston Globe endorsed Tsongas last week.

Donoghue, who garnered the endorsements of two large papers in the district, is using every arrow in her quiver — including denouncing interest groups like EMILY’s List — to pull off an upset. The attacks have centered on several of Tsongas’s remarks, her alleged lack of experience and her policy positions.

Donoghue’s ad, launched on Aug. 27, matches her mug shot against Tsongas’s and suggests that only she has the experience necessary, will vote to end the war in Iraq and has a plan to take care of veterans.

Tsongas called the ad misleading and asked Donoghue to pull it, which she declined.

“She’s been the front-runner with no competition, but our ad clearly sets forth, one, that I have experience for over a decade, and it also sets forth that I have a clear plan in terms of taking care of veterans and she doesn’t,” Donoghue said.

Most of Donoghue’s case against Tsongas revolves around their comparative experience levels. Donoghue was elected to her current post in 1996 and also served as mayor, while Tsongas has never served and didn’t show much of an interest in politics when her husband was in office, according to decades-old comments Donoghue has cited.

Since then, though, Tsongas has served as a dean at a community college and has worked on various issues, including healthcare.

“I have a different set of experiences than any other candidate,” Tsongas said.

There are three other Democrats vying for their party’s nomination.

State Rep. Barry Finegold’s campaign has approached the election by keying on its turnout operation and ground game, using an exclusive voter contact program to build a file of 15,000 supporters that it hoped to turn out Tuesday, spokeswoman Nairi Tashjian said.

With overall turnout expected to be below 50,000, that chunk could be enough to win.

“We just have to get them out,” Tashjian said.

Finegold and state Rep. James Eldridge have consistently polled in the top four, and state Rep. James Miceli is running an under-funded long-shot bid.

On the Republican side, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Jim Ogonowski is expected to cruise and has been largely able to focus his efforts on his presumptive Oct. 16 match-up with a Democrat.

Through mid-August, Ogonowski raised less than the four top Democrats, but he hopes fundraisers in recent days with Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and former Massachusetts Gov. Paul Cellucci (R) will help him gain ground.

Ogonowski, a political newcomer whose brother died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, repeatedly emphasizes that he is and will be the outsider in the race. He makes it clear that he is banking on Congress’s low approval ratings fueling votes against Washington.

“I’m not a lifelong politician, I’m not partisan, I want to work with Republicans and Democrats to go to Washington and make a difference,” Ogonowski said. “I fit into the mold of what our Founding Fathers envisioned.”