Tsongas won a special election Tuesday night.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - What does a special election in Massachusetts have to do with next year’s battle for Congress?
A lot, Republicans hope. The Democrat beat the Republican in Tuesday’s contest, but the GOP sees victory in defeat.
The widow of the late Sen. Paul Tsongas won the special election to fill the unexpired term of Rep. Marty Meehan. The Massachusetts Democrat resigned from Congress earlier this year to become the Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
Niki Tsongas defeated Republican Jim Ogonowski, a former Air Force pilot whose brother was piloting one of the hijacked airliners that crashed into the World Trade Center on 9/11, in a hard fought battle for the state’s 5th Congressional District, which partially borders New Hampshire.
Tsongas, whose late husband once held the same congressional seat before being elected to the Senate, topped Ogonowski 51% to 46%.
And that’s what the Republicans are crowing about.
Massachusetts is a very blue state and this district is dominated by Democrats. It overwhelming went for Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election and John Kerry four years later. Meehan won 67 percent of the vote in his 2004 re-election bid, and was unopposed last year.
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, says, “Democrats have a reason to worry. In a race that should have been won in a walk, Democrats were forced to funnel a massive amount of resources and dispatch an all-star cast of liberal icons at the 11th hour in order to ensure victory. As their approval ratings have shown, people have already grown angry with the Democrat-led Congress. In a little over nine months, they have gone from being perceived as agents of change and the answer to the problem in Washington to becoming the actual problem. Jim Ogonowski, while unsuccessful in his bid to change Washington, just opened the door for future Republican candidates seeking a path to victory in 2008.”
Jennifer Crider, communications director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, says in response, “If Tom Cole truly believes that, he should have invested in the race.” Crider continued, saying, “If Republicans are serious, they need to win this type of race and they couldn’t do it.”
Republicans may be hoping that the Massachusetts 5th special election becomes this cycle’s Ohio 2nd .
Iraq war veteran and Democrat Paul Hackett nearly won a special election in August 2005 in Ohio’s predominantly Republican second district. The race grabbed a lot of media attention and both parties poured a lot of money into the contest. The race became a bellwether race for the following year’s midterm elections, in which the Democrats grabbed back control of both parties of Congress.
But will the special election in Massachusetts become a bellwether for next year’s congressional elections?
It’s true that the approval rating for the Democrat-controlled Congress is in the toilet. But right now, it appears the Democrats are in the driver’s seat. Republicans are saddled with an unpopular president and an unpopular war, and they’re facing 12 retirements in the House and five in the Senate.
– CNN Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser