In Tuesday’s special election to fill the vacancy in Massachusetts’ 5th district, Jim Ogonowski (R) might be giving Niki Tsongas (D) a run for her money — literally.
The race has proved to be expensive for Tsongas, who according to an analysis of both campaigns’ financial reports from Aug. 16 to Sept. 26 has spent $807,100 on consultants, including more than half a million dollars on television advertising buys in the Boston area.
Tsongas is still favored to win the seat that was held by Rep. Marty Meehan (D) before he resigned on July 1. If she takes the seat, she will be the first female in the state’s Congressional delegation in 25 years.
Tsongas’ $807,100 in consultant-related expenditures makes up most of the hefty $923,300 total she spent during that period, which includes time before the multi-candidate and highly competitive Sept. 4 special primary. Her campaign spent about $505,000 in media buys during that period, according to Federal Election Commission reports.
“She needed every dime of it, especially in the primary,” Massachusetts Democratic consultant Michael Goldman said. “The money she spent was to try and talk to people who just weren’t paying attention. It turned out to be a very tiny universe of voters who participated in that primary. The final [election] is the same thing.”
Goldman said that in a low-turnout special election like this, expensive television buys are the best — and perhaps the only — way to drive people to the polls.
“If she doesn’t spend the money to inform people there is a final [election], then she’ll be upset,” Goldman added.
Tsongas campaign spokeswoman Katie Elbert said the campaign returned to the airwaves after the primary and plans to stay up through Election Day. The campaign released two television advertisements in the primary and two more in the general.
“Our goal has been to make sure as many people as possible understand the clear differences between these two candidates in the special elections,” Elbert said. “Being on TV is one of those ways.”
Tsongas’ opponent Ogonowski spent $73,570 during that same period of time out of his $204,100 total expenditures in the race so far. The campaign said that figure does not include their most recent media buy, which was accounted for after the latest reporting period.
According to Bay State Republican consultant Charley Manning, media buys on the Comcast cable network in the area can be targeted by town. So it’s possible for campaigns to spend the media money targeting particular towns in the district, instead of advertising in the entire metropolitan Boston market — one of the most expensive in the country.
Manning also said that because this is a special election, the regional news media is paying more attention to the race than if there were other campaigns on the ticket.
“I think special elections are different because they’re not sort of under the shadow of other statewide races,” he said. “For instance when we have a governor’s race, that’s the one everybody is talking about. … I do think it’s given Ogonowski a chance to shine.”
Recent polling in the district by WBZ-TV from just after the primary on Sept. 11 showed Tsongas receiving 51 percent of the vote against Ogonowski’s 41 percent. The automated SurveyUSA poll surveyed 411 likely voters Sept. 7-9.
“We’ve always expected this election to be competitive,” Elbert said. “These are two candidates who have never run for office before and it’s a district that’s very independent-minded … and we need to make sure people know the very clear differences between the two candidates in this election.”
Some Bay State political observers say the race became more competitive because despite her well-known name, Tsongas, the widow of former Sen. Paul Tsongas (D), is still a first-time candidate — even if she isn’t new to the campaign trail.
“I think that there is a misconception that you can be political through osmosis,” Goldman said. “People expect them to be as smooth, as smart and as facile as the people whose names they share.”