God looks after fools, drunkards, and the Republican Party of Massachusetts.
That may no longer apply to the Bay State Republican Party organization after the embarrassment last week. Jim Ogonowski, who lost an unusually close special U.S. House race in the 5th District last year to Democrat Nikki Tsongas, was supposed to be the Republican nominee for the seat of Sen. John Kerry this year. Ogonowski had the blessings of former Govs. Mitt Romney and Paul Cellucci, former Lieutenant Governor (and ’06 gubernatorial nominee) Kerry Healey, and other Republican leaders in Massachusetts. In addition, retired Air Force Col. Ogonowski had the blessings of National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Ensign (Nev.), whose committee sent the budding Ogonowski campaign a donation.
But it was not to be. There was the matter of signatures (10,000) that were required to make the primary ballot. Although Ogonowski claimed to have the signatures (and sent out a press release assuring supporters he had the signatures) it appeared last week that the candidate had fallen short of the “magic 10,000” by just over 30 signatures. In contrast, his conservative opponent, much-decorated veteran Jeff Beatty, had followed the example of many candidates by gathering far more than the required number of signatures. With a comfortable “cushion,” then, Beatty qualified for the ballot — and, for now at least, appears to be the nominee-in-waiting.
Beatty’s chances against Kerry, while they now appear to be modest, are beside the point now. The biggest question now, as one longtime HE subscriber told me Friday, is “How could this happen? Why did Ensign and the NRSC support Ognowski’s candidacy before he passed the all-important signature hurdle?”
I don’t know the answer to this one. Quite frankly, since Mitt Romney’s nationally-watched challenge to Ted Kennedy in 1994, I haven’t paid as close attention to Republican Senate hopefuls in Massachusetts as I have in other states. (I hope I am forgiven for sounding a bit cavalier, but the state has not elected a Republican to the Senate since 1972).
To be sure, the scenario of running a veteran against Kerry was intriguing, no matter what the chances. But the question screams: if a veteran, why not Beatty as much as Ogonowski? The latter Republican did run for Congress, already, but so did Beatty — against Democratic Rep. William DelaHunt in the 10th District in ’06.
Could it be that the NRSC prefers a more moderate Senate nominee such as Ogonowski to the conservative Beatty? I used to write a lot about the national party’s campaign arm taking sides in moderate vs. conservative Senate primaries in the 1980’s and ‘90’s but, as the Republican Party and its leaders have grown more conservative — and that certainly describes Ensign — this has happened with less frequency. Just last week, in the primary between moderate Heather Wilson and conservative Steve Pearce for the Senate in New Mexico, the NRSC remained absolutely neutral. (Pearce won narrowly).
Whatever the story, Ogonowski has hinted he may yet try to get on the ballot through “stickers”. This is the option through which candidates who are not on the primary ballot try to win the nomination by printing up stickers that supporters can apply to the ballot. Stickers are easier to manage than a write-in vote and they count in Massachusetts. While there are cases of candidates winning primaries for the state legislature by sticker, when it comes to a statewide race, one recalls the immortal admonition of Rocky the Flying Squirrel: “That never works!” There are just not enough voters comfortable with the procedure in the state as a whole for it to succeed against a candidate whose name is already on the ballot. (In 1986, when scandal forced Greg Hyatt to abandon his bid the Republican nomination for governor, businessman George Kariotis had the blessing of party leaders and tried to win the primary on stickers; he fell short of Hyatt and only after Hyatt was persuaded to relinquish the nomination was the party able to turn to Kariotis, who lost badly to Democratic Gov. Michael Dukakis that fall).
An opinion: after all the unusual and rather embarrassing developments surrounding the Republican Senate nomination in Massachusetts, there might be another admonition for state and national party leaders and for Ogonowski himself: Get over it. You already have a legitimate Senate candidate in Jeff Beatty.