Martin Meehan (left) recently introduced the Republican candidates running for his vacated U.S. House of Representatives seat. Tom Tierney (right) looks on as Meehan does the introductions.
(CNN) – It’s Labor Day in Massachusetts, which means it’s probably time to hit the beach on the Cape or head over to Fenway Park as the Sox try to extend their division lead.
If you live in the Merrimack River Valley, it’s also time for a true rarity in Bay State politics: a competitive U.S. House primary. Voters in the fifth congressional district are preparing to head to the polls Tuesday to choose the Democratic and Republican nominees in the race to succeed recently retired Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Lowell.
Five Democrats and two Republicans are vying for the honor. On the Democratic side, voters will see a familiar last name on the ballot, as Niki Tsongas tries to recapture the seat once held by her late husband, Paul Tsongas, the former senator and 1992 presidential candidate. Tsongas, currently a dean at Middlesex Community College, is facing stiff competition from Lowell City Councilor Eileen Donoghue, as well as state reps. Jamie Eldridge, Barry Finegold and Jim Miceli.
The GOP race is a showdown between Air Force retiree Jim Ogonowski and Marine Corps veteran/consumer activist Tom Tierney. Ogonowski’s brother, John, was the pilot of American Airlines Flight 11, which was hijacked and crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11.
An August 27-29 poll conducted for WBZ-TV by SurveyUSA indicated a potential blowout for Ogonowski on the GOP side. The Democratic race was significantly closer, with Tsongas leading Donoghue by 11 points, 40 to 29 percent. Eldridge came in third, at 15 percent. The poll carries a margin of error of +/- 4.7 percentage points.
Still, any poll should probably be taken with a grain of salt in what may prove to be a low-turnout affair. A number of local political observers, according to a recent article in the Lowell Sun, are predicting a turnout between 40,000 to 50,000 voters. If so, the strength of the candidates’ ground operations could be the decisive factor.
In deep blue Massachusetts, capturing the Democratic nomination may be tantamount to victory in the general election. The Commonwealth’s twelve-member congressional delegation — including both U.S. Senate seats — is entirely Democratic. No Republican has carried the fifth district since 1972, when Paul Cronin defeated a young Vietnam veteran named John Kerry. Cronin was subsequently defeated by Tsongas in the 1974 post-Watergate Democratic landslide.
The general election is set for October 16.
- CNN Political Producer/Researcher Alan Silverleib