After a Tough Primary, Tsongas Favored in Mass.

Posted September 5, 2007 at 6:26pm

Massachusetts is poised to send a woman to Congress for the first time in a quarter-century.

College administrator Niki Tsongas, the widow of the late Sen. Paul Tsongas (D-Mass.), won a spirited special Democratic primary Tuesday and is favored to win the Oct. 16 special election to replace former Rep. Marty Meehan (D), who resigned two months ago.

Tsongas, who was heavily favored at the outset of the special election and had raised more than $1.2 million through Aug. 15, held off a late surge from former Lowell Mayor Eileen Donoghue to win the primary, 36 percent to 31 percent. Three state Representatives split the remainder of the vote.

“The selection is a referendum on the presidency of George W. Bush,” Tsongas told her supporters Tuesday night.

In the general election, Tsongas, 61, will face Jim Ogonowski, a 49-year-old farmer and Air Force veteran who handily won the Republican primary. Although Republicans and Democrats alike see Ogonowski as an appealing candidate with a compelling story to tell — his brother was a pilot of one of the planes that was hijacked on Sept. 11, 2001 — the 5th district west of Boston is likely too heavily Democratic to be truly competitive, and it remains to be seen whether national GOP leaders have the resources to help their nominee.

Tsongas, on the other hand, will be well-stocked for battle and has the support of financial powerhouse EMILY’s List.

Assuming Tsongas wins, she will become the first female Member of Congress from the Bay State since then-Rep. Margaret Heckler (R) was defeated for re-election in a 1982 Member-vs.-Member contest with Rep. Barney Frank (D).

Frank was one of several Massachusetts insiders who endorsed Tsongas in this Democratic primary; Eileen Murphy Meehan, the departing Congressman’s wife, served as her campaign chairwoman.

— Josh Kurtz