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Tsongas Makes History

Voters in the 5th Congressional District have elected Democrat Niki Tsongas as their new Representative in Washington. The Congresswoman-elect could be sworn in as soon as today and take her first vote tomorrow.

Tsongas, widow of former US Senator Paul Tsongas, beat her Republican rival, Jim Ogonowski, by 51% to 45%. WBUR's Fred Thys has more on the Special Election.

TEXT OF STORY:FRED THYS: Niki Tsongas told her supporters last night that she expects to go to Washington almost immediately.

NIKI TSONGAS: Less than 48 hours from now, I will have the honor of going to Washington and casting my vote to override President Bush's veto.

THYS: What Tsongas said over the dreadful sound system was that she would vote to override President Bush's veto of expansion of health care coverage for children. Democrats in the House have been trying to gather enough votes for an override. With the addition of Tsongas, they are one vote closer to their goal.

TSONGAS: There is no better way I can think of than to do that as my way of starting my service for the people of the Fifth Congressional District.

THYS: Tsongas won Lowell, Lawrence, and most of the cities and towns in the district, though Republican Jim Ogonowski took his own town of Dracut, as well as Chelmsford, Tewksbury, Andover, Billerica, and Methuen. The Tsongas campaign pointed out that she won the district with a bigger margin than Deval Patrick last year. Still, Ogonowski made it a close race.

JIM OGONOWSKI: We showed them a few things.

THYS: Addressing his supporters, the normally chipper Ogonowski had one person in particular to thank.

OGONOWSKI: Not here in person tonight, but in spirit, my brother John.

THYS: American Airlines pilot John Ogonowski was killed on 9/11. In the end, Tsongas' opposition to the war seemed to have trumped Ogonowski's connection to 9/11, and his own military credentials as a retired Air Force officer. Opponents of the war supported Tsongas, who said last night that she would get to work right away to join Congressman Jim McGovern, of Worcester, to push for a timetable to withdraw most U.S. troops from Iraq by July. Dan Dalton, who voted in Lowell, was one of the people who supported Tsongas because of her opposition to the war.

DAN DALTON: Because I think the war is foremost among the minds of people around here. I know it's foremost in my mind, and I appreciate her stance on it.

THYS: Erin Brenner voted for Tsongas in Haverhill.

ERIN BRENNER: I want more money for education. I want to work on getting our troops out of Iraq.

THYS: Ogonowski tried to run as the outsider, but it turned out that Tsongas' political connections worked in her favor in the minds of at least some voters. Dan Soroken voted for Tsongas in Lowell.

DAN SOROKEN: Honestly, I see her as a better benefit for the Fifth District, in that I feel she's better politically connected, and I think that that will better serve us in the long run.

THYS: Constitution Party candidate Kevin Thomspon won less than half of one per cent of the vote. Independent Kurt Hayes won one per cent. Independent candidate Patrick Murphy, who ran without accepting contributions, finished third with two per cent. He said last night that he hopes the ideas he brought up in this race, such as a proposal to make all Americans share in the cost of the war by raising an income tax dedicated to supporting the troops, would continue to be discussed.

PATRICK MURPHY: I wish Niki all the best, and I hope that she considers all the positions and is able to take these into account when she goes to Washington.

THYS: Because this was a special election, Tsongas will have to run again next year. UMass Lowell Political Science Professor Jeff Gerson says there will probably be a second Tsongas-Ognowski race.

JEFF GERSON: Ogonowski did better than anyone gave him credit, probably surprised himself with the kind of grass-roots campaign he was able to run effectively, and I think his people are going to come back strong next year, and give Niki a race.

THYS: Niki Tsongas' victory in this race makes her the first woman from Massachusetts to serve in Congress since 1983.WBUR'S Kirk Carapezza contributed to this report.

This program aired on October 17, 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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