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« Clinton's Last Card | Blog Home Page | Return Of The Goat »

Kerry Challenger Makes DC Rounds

After a disastrous year in 2006, Republicans recruiting candidates for this year's House and Senate elections are using a new pitch: That year's election showed voters disliked Republicans; this year, voters dislike Washington and incumbents as a whole. As evidence, the GOP will point to a special election last year in which a Republican came within just a few points of dislodging Democratic control of a seat in northern Massachusetts.

That Republican, farmer and businessman Jim Ogonowski, ran as an outsider, and he fits the part. He's apparently bought the hype, as well. This year, he's set his sights higher, and instead of seeking a rematch against new incumbent Niki Tsongas, to whom he lost in October, he is preparing to mount a long-shot bid against Massachusetts Senator John Kerry.

In Washington last week to meet with national Republican officials and introduce himself to journalists, Ogonowski said he would do everything he could to make Kerry's re-election bid more difficult than in 2002, when he took 80% of the vote without a Republican opponent. "People are fed up with Washington," Ogonowski told Politics Nation. "Clearly, they want change, but Washington is broken and nobody represents that status quo more than John Kerry."

While Ogonowski's performance last year looked impressive, the district cast ballots for Tsongas at about the same rate Democratic Governor Deval Patrick did in 2006. Undaunted by the long odds -- Tsongas' is the least Democratic of the state's eleven seats -- Ogonowski said his numbers were rising then, and they can rise again. "With a little more time, we would have won that race," he said. "Clearly, we can win in Massachusetts."

Ogonowski's hopes rely on the fact that he's running against the state's less-popular Senator. "I'm not running against Ted Kennedy. Let me tell you, huge difference," he said. "You can't compare those two. John Kerry doesn't work for us. Not at all. I don't agree with Ted Kennedy on his views, but the guy's a workhorse."

Though no Republican has been elected to the Senate in Massachusetts in two generations, the party has elected GOP Governors Mitt Romney, Paul Cellucci and William Weld. Weld gave Kerry a race in 1996, coming within seven points of upsetting the incumbent.

Still, Massachusetts Republicans can benefit from what many Bay Staters see as a monolithic Democratic Party in the state capitol. Democrats who have won overwhelmingly at a statewide level, including Patrick, Kennedy and Kerry were never a part of the state legislature. Republican governors all beat Democrats seen as part of the Beacon Hill establishment.

In Ogonowski's long-shot bid, he may find as much success tying Kerry to the capitol in Boston as he would tying Kerry to the capitol in Washington. Even if those messages work, convincing Bay State voters that Kerry is the incumbent who needs to be replaced could prove an impossible sell.