Senator, you are no Ted Kennedy.
At least that’s what Republicans in Massachusetts might like to think when they dream about defeating Sen. John Kerry (D), who is up for re-election for the first time since narrowly losing the presidency in 2004.
And after losing a much-closer-than-expected special House election in the state’s 5th district in October, Republican Jim Ogonowski is now strongly considering a bid against Kerry for Senate.
“Every place I go people say, ‘Jim, you’ve got to run again,’ ” Ogonowski said Wednesday.
Ogonowski points out that no one thought he would get close to winning the special contest against now-Rep. Niki Tsongas (D), the widow of the late Sen. Paul Tsongas (D-Mass.), but he came within a few points of victory.
“We almost won,” he said. “With a little more time, we would have won.”
Since losing the race, Ogonowski has been pushing a packed schedule across the state, speaking to party activists and town committees. Ogonowski, who has yet to officially say he is running, also has met with the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
“We are excited to see a popular candidate like Jim Ogonowski express interest in running — he would offer a sharp contrast to John Kerry and his style of representation,” said NRSC spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher.
If Ogonowski really gives Kerry a race, he would be following in a line of challengers who make semi-quixotic bids against failed presidential candidates. In Connecticut, multimillionaire Ned Lamont defeated Sen. Joe Lieberman, a former presidential candidate, in the 2006 Democratic primary, only to have the sitting Senator win the general election as an Independent.
And Lamont might have the potential for national media attention like Ogonowski, but he also has something the hay farmer does not: Millions in his bank account. Ogonowski had $87,049 in his campaign coffers while Kerry had $9.5 million in cash on hand at the end of 2007.
And this is true blue Massachusetts, where the voter registration is 37 percent for Democrats, 12.5 percent for Republicans and just less than 50 percent for nonaffiliated constituents, according to the secretary of state’s office.
But while Bay State voters have not elected a Republican Member of Congress for more than a decade, Massachusetts has a history of electing Republicans statewide as governors.
What’s more, Kerry is the more vulnerable of the state’s two Senators, according to Massachusetts Republican consultant Charley Manning.
“Ted Kennedy is a Kennedy, first of all, in Massachusetts,” Manning said. “So he comes with all of that wealth of good feeling people have for his family.”
Manning says Kerry has never done any of the “heavy lifting” for the state that Kennedy does and instead “always tried to play on the national” or “international level.”
“He’s an aloof patrician who never really has connected with the people here,” Manning said. “He probably would have lost to [then- Massachusetts Gov.] Bill Weld [R] when Bill challenged him in 1996 if it hadn’t been for the Clinton landslide.”
However, political observers in the state on both sides of the aisle agree it will be an uphill battle for any Republican against Kerry, who has not faced a tough race since 1996 — aside from the 2004 presidential contest, that is.
“Senator Kerry is running for re-election so he can continue fighting to change Washington, from ending the war in Iraq, combating global climate change and achieving energy independence, to providing universal health care in America,” said Kerry spokesman David Wade. “John Kerry brings to public service a lifetime of fighting the tough fights for change and standing up with courage and conviction, and he’ll keep doing that in the United States Senate.”
But Ogonowski insists that voters tell him they never see Kerry around the state. Nonetheless, he admits a Senate race would be a difficult undertaking.
Weld, a political moderate who lost to Kerry by 7 points a dozen years ago, said he could not imagine a Republican beating Kerry this cycle.
“I don’t know,” Weld said. “Sen. Kerry is a very good debater and he’s a good candidate. Having said that, you never know. I didn’t think anyone could beat [then-Sen.] Ed Brooke [R-Mass.] and along came Paul Tsongas.”