GOP Debate in 5th District

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The two Republican candidates for Congress in the Fifth District, which stretches from the Merrimack Valley to the Western suburbs of Boston, debated for the first time.


FRED THYS: Jim Ogonowski is the candidate that Republican party officials hope will become the first Republican Congressman from the state since 1997. He is a Dracut hay farmer, a retired Air Force officer who took over the family farm after his brother, John, was killed on 9/11 when he was the pilot of American Airlines flight 11. But now, Ogonowski finds himself with a primary challenger in Tom Tierney, an actuary from Framingham. Tierney has run several races against Marty Meehan, who resigned the seat earlier this year to take a job as chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. Tierney has run as a Republican and a Democrat, a fact that Ogonowski seized on. Until last night, Ogonowski had ignored Tierney, skipping all the candidates' forums held throughout the district this summer.When Tierney accused him of being afraid to debate, Ogonowski came back with this:

JIM OGONOWSKI: You've run as a Democrat a number of times.
TOM TIERNEY: No, just once.
OGONOWSKI: Obviously, going to the Democratic debates, you've probably forgotten that this time, you're running as a Republican.

THYS: Finally given his chance to debate Ogonowski, Tierney did what you would expect from an underdog: he used every opportunity to challenge his opponent. Here he is questioning Ogonowski's position on Iraq.

TIERNEY: Jim's position has got to be unique. I know of no one in this country that was against the war in the beginning and is now for it.

THYS: In an exchange moderated by Channel 5's Janet Wu, Ogonowski explained his position.

OGONOWSKI: Clearly, I have said that invading Iraq was a mistake. I've said that all along, but now, we have to finish the job. We need to work for stability in Iraq, and that entire region. We need to form a coalition of neighbors, the Iranians, the Jordanians, the Syrians, the Turks, the Saudi Arabians, we need to all come together, because clearly, Iraq's neighbors are our own worst enemies. We need to work together.
JANET WU: Mr Tierney, would you like a quick response to that?
TIERNEY: Yeah. It isn't going to work, Jim. You've got to be blind if you don't see it. You are foisting a government on people that don't want it.

THYS: Both candidates did their best to distance themselves from President Bush in the debate, but Tierney said something you might not expect a Republican candidate to say about the President.

TIERNEY: He's pure 100 per cent Texas redneck. He's a pickup truck guy in jeans.

THYS: After the debate, Tierney explained that when he said the President is a redneck, he meant it in a good way.

TIERNEY: I meant that as a compliment. Connecticut Yankee, Texas redneck? I want to do business, I want to do business with the Texas redneck.

THYS: Tierney said he actually would like President Bush to campaign for him. Ogonowski, on the other hand, says he does not want the President to come to the district. There is another debate, on the radio, next week, but last night's was the last televised debate in the primary. Tierney is not likely to have another chance to be seen by so many voters. But he clearly got some attention in his first one-on-one with Ogonowski. Like the Democrats, both Republicans may have rough time getting anyone to pay attention, because the primary is the day after Labor Day, and many residents of the district may not focus until it's actually time to vote.

This program aired on August 16, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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