In my opinion, for what it's worth, Jim Ogonowski misfired from the start on his campaign against Niki Tsongas for Congress, by going along with the idea of nationalizing the race. To me, by far his strongest advantage is the personal: military veteran, farmer, small businessman, took over his brother's Cambodian-immigrant-farmer project when he died, etc.
When Tsongas said, the very first day after the primary, that this election is a referendum on George Bush and the Iraq War, I would have advised Ogonowski to immediately and repeatedly reject the idea that it's a referendum on anything -- he should have said that this election is about who is best able to understand and represent the regular people of the district, and here's who I am, contrast that with who Niki Tsongas is, etc.
Instead, he came out and said that this IS a referendum, but on the Democrats in Congress. So the election in the 5th CD has become a referendum on who's more wicked suckier, George Bush or Congressional Democrats. I don't see a lot of the unenrolled portion of the electorate -- who Jim needs more than Niki does -- showing up to vote if those are their options.
But it's even worse than that. By getting dragged into this definition of the race, Ogo has to avoid anything that makes him look like he's siding with Bush, but also must denounce anything the Democrats in Congress propose. This limits Ogonowski to supporting only those policy positions which find Bush and the Democrats in agreement with each other, in opposition to large numbers of voters -- a list of issues that pretty much starts and ends with a hard line on illegal immigration.
Once you get past immigration, though, Ogonowski's kinda screwed -- which is a big reason why, in last week's NECN debate, his answer to pretty much every non-immigration policy question was: "I don't know, but there should be a bipartisan, non-bickering process to figure out the best solution." If that line works, this just might be the first time anyone's been elected to Congress with a clear mandate to create more policy-study commissions.
This is why SCHIP has posed such an existential crisis for his campaign. To put it plainly, in the SCHIP showdown, voters think that Bush is WAY more wicked suckier than the Congressional Democrats.
This is awfully bad luck for Ogo: who the hell knew that Congress would get together in a non-bickering, bipartisan fashion, and work out an imperfect but undoubtedly positive bill on a mom-pop-and-apple-pie issue, and that George Bush would veto it in such a grotesque fashion that polls show 85% of the public wants him overriden -- a mindboggling level of public unanimity usually reserved for questions like "should the US try to prevent Iran from arming anti-American terrorists with nuclear weapons?"
If Ogonowski says he would vote to uphold the veto, he's taking Bush's side in the galactic struggle of good vs. evil. If he supports the override, he's conceding that, contrary to the entire basis of his campaign, the Democratic-led Congress is the solution, and Bush and the obstructionist Republicans are the problem.
The topic was a disaster for him in last week's NECN debate, and figures to be again in Tuesday night's debate. Which brings me, finally, to the new ad, launching tomorrow, that this post is supposed to be about. Finally, Ogonowski's campaign is trying to direct attention to the personal. But it's barely even about him (and doesn't at all draw a contrast with Tsongas). Instead, he goes for the tear ducts by dragging out his dead brother's widow to talk about her fatherless kids. Oy. (You can view it -- and his earlier, better ads -- at the almost-cleverly-named BlOgonowski.) Using her in an earlier ad, as part of a broader attempt to define Jim to people, I think would have worked. Now, in the final week of the campaign, it looks desperate and inauthentic and tacky.
And here's what I'd love to see Tsongas do, although I don't think she's ballsy enough. She should turn to Jim in tomorrow's debate and say, very sincerely: "I saw your ad, and I was really moved by the pain and the burden your sister-in-law carries with her from your brother's tragic death. Families never really repair from that kind of loss. And Jim, that's why we have to end this war: for all the families of our soldiers, the ones who won't come home. What she has gone through, another 1000 American families are going through this year because of this war. And there will be another thousand next year. And it's doing nothing to the people who killed your brother. It's just senseless dying, and it needs to stop."