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MA Race Draws National Interest

Tonight, the five contenders in the race to replace Marty Meehan in Congress hold their only televised debate. It will be on New England Cable News.

The 5th District's special election is for the country's only open Congressional seat and, as WBUR's Fred Thys reports, the contest is drawing national attention.

TEXT OF STORY:

FRED THYS: In front of an audience of more than two thousand people in Lowell's Memorial Hall Sunday night, Niki Tsongas recognized that there was some irony in the fact that former president Bill Clinton was campaigning for her, given the tense 1992 presidential campaign between Clinton and Tsongas's late husband, Paul.

NIKI TSONGAS: Fifteen years ago, I might have had a very different vision for a night like this: that I would be the former first lady, perhaps introducing Bill Clinton as he ran for Congress. (laughter)

THYS: In one night, Clinton raised 150-thousand dollars for Tsongas.

BILL CLINTON: For deep personal reasons, and because I admire her and her life, I'm glad to be here.

THYS: But not everyone in the audience was sold on Tsongas. Natalie McDonald, from Billerica, said she was still considering Tsongas's Republican rival, Jim Ogonowski.

NATALIE MCDONALD: I'm learning about her, so I want to learn about Ogonowski also.

THYS: Ogonowski has attracted talent from around the country for his campaign. His manager, Dustin Olson, was the political director of the Colorado Republican Party, and served as a White House intern under Ken Mehlman, president Bush's campaign manager in 2004. But while Tsongas has received help from Clinton and the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representative, Nancy Pelosi, Ogonowski says he doesn't want such help from the national Republican party.

JIM OGONOWSKI: No! I don't want it. She tells you she's a Washington insider, that she's been down to Washington before, and she's reaching out to Washington insiders, and that's what the people of the district don't want.

THYS: UMass Lowell Political Science Professor Jeff Gerson says Ogonowski has managed to make this a close race.

JEFF GERSON: I think Ogonowski has touched a nerve with the voters by railing against Congress and claiming that he's just a simple farmer from Dracut, and Niki Tsongas represents the Washington establishment.

THYS: And the Washington establishment has taken notice. Dan Wasserman watches House races for the Cook Political Report.

DAN WASSERMAN: Obviously there are some Democratic interests in Washington who are concerned about the results of this race, and have convinced Bill Clinton that it's in the Democratic interest to visit Lowell and heighten the visibility of this race in the district.

THYS: Three other candidates are running: the Constitution Party's Kevin Thompson, and independents Kurt Hayes and Patrick Murphy.

Murphy is also getting attention from voters. He was distributing leaflets in Lowell this week when a voter came up to him.

VOTER: I just read this really quick. More than happy to have a sign on my yard.

PATRICK MURPHY: Thanks very much!

VOTER: Okay? I'm definitely going to vote for you, okay?

MURPHY: Thanks very much.

VOTER: You're 25?

MURPHY: 25, yep.

THYS: Murphy has set himself a spending limit of 4600 dollars, the maximum that any candidate can raise from any one person. He hopes to change the way campaigns are run. He faces a high hurdle. Ogonowski has raised more than 400-thousand dollars. Niki Tsongas more than 1.8 million. Both major party candidates have raised their money mostly from Massachusetts residents, but candidates has also received contributions from Washington groups.

CANDIDATES FOR THE SPECIAL ELECTION IN THE 5TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS:

Kurt Hayes, Independent

Patrick Murphy, Independent

Jim Ogonowski, Republican

Kevin Thompson, Constitution Party of Mass.

Niki Tsongas, Democrat

THE GENERAL ELECTION IS SCHEDULED FOR OCTOBER 16TH.

This program aired on October 5, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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