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Final Face-off in 5th District

With less than a week to go before voters decide who'll represent the 5th District in Congress, the five contenders have met in what's billed as their final face-off.

The debate took place last night at UMass Lowell, which was a co-sponsor with WBZ and The Lowell Sun.

It's a congressional race that's attracting national attention. Democrat Niki Tsongas and Republic Jim Ogonowski have raised, and spent, hundreds of thousands of dollars, while the other three candidates have struggled to get noticed.

WBUR's Fred Thys reports.

TEXT OF STORY:

FRED THYS: The liveliest exchange of the evening was over health care and the role of the federal government in general. It started out when Republican Jim Ogonowski said he opposes universal health care.

JIM OGONOWSKI: Big government constantly lets us down. I like the Massachusetts role model, where a state takes control. Let the states be in charge of what they want for the health of their individual states. Don't send it all to Washington, DC.

THYS: That brought this reply from independent candidate Patrick Murphy, who advocates extending Medicare coverage to everyone.

PATRICK MURPHY: The fact is that the Massachusetts plan is not universal. 60 000 people will not be covered regardless of what happens with the federal government. It's more costly, more inefficient. You have more bureaucracy and it won't address the question of how you raise the level of coverage from all people.

GARY LAPIERRE: Mr Ogonowski, you've got 15 seconds.

OGONOWSKI: I don't support universal health care. We see with big government programs how they continually fail us, programs like FEMA, that's a perfect example. There's other programs in Washington.

MURPHY: Who would do that job otherwise? Who would do the job of FEMA if you didn't have...

KEVIN THOMPSON: Individuals. (applause) We, the people, would do the job just fine, thank you. Give us our money, and well handle it just fine.

THYS: That was Constitution Party candidate Kevin Thompson coming to Ogonowski's defense, much to the delight of the large number of Ogonowski supporters in the auditorium. Reporter Matt Murphy, of the Lowell Sun, tried to press Ogonowski to answer a question a has thus far refused to answer: whether he would sustain President Bush's veto of the expansion of health care for children.

OGONOWSKI: If we keep goin' forward with this bill, we leave the door open for fraud, waste, and abuse, benefits to illegal immigrants, and that's wrong. If we override the president's veto, it's going to take two more weeks to get the job done, and in the meantime, these kids are not gettin' the benefits that they need. I propose a third way: Congress right now should be working on a bill that takes out the provision that's giving these benefits to illegal immigrants.

THYS: Ogonowski is concerned because the bill in Congress would allow parents to provide a social security number as identity, and many undocumented workers have social security numbers. Democrat Niki Tsongas had this reply:

NIKI TSONGAS: The reality is we have to vote, one way or the other, up or down. I know I will go to Washington and address this issue and make sure we put in place coverage for eleven million children. Jim, why don't you go to Washington and vote against it, as you would like to do?

THYS: Independent candidate Kurt Hayes criticized the media for treating this race as a two-person race between Tsongas and Ogonowski.

KURT HAYES: So don't believe the media coverage, like what you saw in the Boston Globe today, that there are only two candidates in this race.

THYS: Hayes was referring to the fact that yesterday, the Globe had published four stories on the race, including an endorsement of Niki Tsongas over Jim Ogonowski. The paper did not mention the other three candidates.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 10, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reports on politics and higher education for WBUR.

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