Politics

Message from Massachusetts

A surprisingly poor showing by the victorious Democratic candidate in Tuesday’s special congressional election for Massachusetts’s 5th District left House members of both parties wondering whether the public is less antagonistic to Republicans than to whoever is in power regardless of party.

Niki Tsongas, widow of the late Democratic Sen. Paul Tsongas, was elected with 51 percent to 45 percent by a Republican neophyte, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Jim Ogonowski. The heavily Democratic 5th District gave George W. Bush 36 percent and 41 percent in 2000 and 2004. Democrat Martin Meehan, who resigned from Congress to become president of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, won with 60 percent in 2002, 67 percent in 2004 and was unopposed in 2006.

Although Mrs. Tsongas proved an unexciting candidate, she was well known as the wife of a former presidential candidate. Ogonowski, while minimizing Republican connections, clashed with Tsongas on the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) by opposing its expansion and stressed illegal immigration.

RALLYING FOR ROMNEY

A private meeting of more than 200 “surrogates” backing Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential nomination overflowed a room at Washington’s Capitol Hill Club Wednesday, requiring extra chairs to be brought in.

This was not a fundraiser or a recruiting event but a gathering of committed, Washington-based Romney supporters. It provided an impressive measure of the former Massachusetts governor’s standing among capital insiders.

A footnote: The non-partisan National Italian American Foundation’s meeting last weekend at the Washington Hilton Hotel became a pep rally for Rudy Giuliani’s Republican presidential candidacy. That buttressed Giuliani campaign claims that he can capture the big Italian vote, normally split between Republicans and Democrats.

ABSENTEE DODD

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, pressured by banking lobbyists, this week approved two of the seven House-passed bills that have been neglected while he campaigned for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Dodd’s House counterpart, Rep. Barney Frank, began in March to win House passage of affordable housing for the Gulf Coast hurricane victims, the industrial bank holding act, federal housing finance reform, Federal Housing Administration reform, terrorism risk insurance, flood insurance reform and homeowners insurance for catastrophic events. Dodd did nothing with any of these bills until this week when his committee marked up the catastrophic events and flood insurance bills.

A rationale for Dodd’s inaction was the absence from the Banking Committee until recently of ailing Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson. However, Dodd has been on the campaign trail all year on a presidential campaign financed in large part by banking interests.

CATHOLICS VS. GOP

Catholics United, which routinely criticizes Republicans, is running radio ads against 10 anti-abortion House members — including five Catholics — for voting against the expanded State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

 “That’s not pro-life,” the ad says. “That’s not pro-family. Tell Congressman (blank) to vote for health care for children.”

The five Catholics are Joseph Knollenberg and Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan, Steve Chabot of Ohio, Ginny Brown-Waite of Florida and Gene Taylor of Mississippi (the only Democrat among the 10). Others targeted by Catholics United are Tim Walberg of Michigan (non-denominational Protestant), Michele Bachmann of Minnesota (Lutheran), Sam Graves of Missouri (Baptist), John Peterson of Pennsylvania (Methodist) and Thelma Drake of Virginia (United Church of Christ).

LOST BY KATRINA

One underlying reason for bright Republican prospects in Louisiana’s statewide elections Oct. 20 is the departure from the state of an estimated 173,000 African-Americans, dependable Democratic voters, after Hurricane Katrina.

New Orleans is still 58 percent African-American according to a Brookings Institution survey, compared with 67 percent prior to the storm. But migration of blacks, mainly to Houston and Atlanta, loses the recent Democratic hard core in Louisiana.

Republican Rep. Bobby Jindal polls around 50 percent in the non-party race, with his two closest competitors, Democratic State Sen. Walter Boasso and Republican businessman John Georges, around 10 percent each. Republicans may hold at least five of seven statewide offices after the Oct. 20 voting.

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