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Rep. Tsongas' Seat Is Already Generating Interest03:33Download

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Rep. Niki Tsongas speaks at the Massachusetts Democratic State Convention in 2012. (Michael Dwyer/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
Rep. Niki Tsongas speaks at the Massachusetts Democratic State Convention in 2012. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas' soon-to-be vacant House seat has already been generating interest following her Wednesday morning announcement that she won't seek reelection next November.

The 3rd District has been a Democratic stronghold for decades. But now that the incumbent is stepping out, Republicans see an opening.

It could be the Mass. GOP's best shot at a congressional seat since Scott Brown lost his Senate seat in 2012. For former state Republican Party Chair Jim Rappaport, an open seat is a big advantage.

"It probably adds 8 to 10 percentage points. If somebody were to run against an incumbent, they have a very high hill to climb," he said. "If you're running for an open seat against two new candidates it's much more likely that the Republicans can be successful."

Rappaport said Republicans need to field a strong candidate. He added that in this state, the GOP should focus the candidate's platform on the economy — not social issues.

"The big issue is jobs. How's the middle class gonna not keep getting eroded, and particularly up in Middlesex County, how are you going to create better paying jobs?"

Tsongas' exit from Congress closes a chapter in the long history of the Tsongas family. Her late husband Paul Tsongas was elected to the Lowell City Council in 1969 before becoming a House member, a U.S. senator and a presidential candidate.

"Both Paul and Niki have left a legacy that's going to extend well beyond their times in office," said Michael Gallagher, a prominent attorney in Lowell with longstanding ties to the Tsongas family.

"It's rare a week goes by when you don't hear something about Paul Tsongas, or more recently, Niki Tsongas," Gallagher added.

Niki Tsongas was elected in 2007, beating back an array of Democrats for the seat that once belonged to her husband. Democrats who ran against her then include some of the names coming up now as possible candidates.

One of those names is state Sen. Eileen Donoghue, a former mayor of Lowell. Others include state Sens. Jamie Eldridge and Barbara L'Italien, both of whom say they're considering running.

Reportedly exploring a run for the seat on the Republican side is Rick Green, of Pepperell, a businessman and founder of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, a right-wing nonprofit.

"Oh wow, I think there's going to be at least 10 people running for this seat," said Peter Lucas, a political columnist for The Lowell Sun who's been covering Massachusetts politics for 40 years.

"It's going to be a very interesting and much-covered race," he said. "It's the only contested congressional contest around, so there's going to be a lot of interest."

Tsongas was the first woman to represent Massachusetts in Congress in about a quarter-century. Now, Democrats could face pressure to get behind a candidate of color, according to Tufts University political scientist Jeff Berry. He points out that Massachusetts has an all-white congressional delegation.

"Lowell and Lawrence are the heart of this district, and there's a very large Hispanic population, so Democratic leadership in the state is going to think about trying to unite around one candidate who will diversify the delegation," Berry said.

That, Berry said, would help Democrats get out their base to vote for Elizabeth Warren and their nominee for governor.

The race could be key to both parties in 2018, as they fight for control of Congress.

This segment aired on August 10, 2017.

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Simón Rios Twitter Reporter
Simón Rios is a reporter in WBUR's newsroom. He joined the station after two years at The Standard-Times in New Bedford, where he cut his teeth covering immigration and business.

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