Taking the Fifth

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  August 22, 2007

“It’s all been public without necessarily being political,” says Brian Martin, former Lowell city manager, of Tsongas’s experience.

“She’ll hit the ground running,” promises Ellen Murphy Meehan — the congressman’s wife, and Tsongas’s campaign chair.

In any event, it’s not clear that voters are paying enough attention to the race to care about any of that — or anything beyond the recognizable name. In Haverhill, where Donoghue chatted up senior citizens before their bingo game this past week, several of them mistook her for her opponent.

Diverse district, similar candidates
The upcoming primary is scheduled for Tuesday, September 4, the day after Labor Day. Which means that the campaign is taking place in the doldrums of summer, with voting occurring on a day when families are also shuttling their children off to their first day of school. Thus, turnout is expected to be low — possibly fewer than 10 percent of the district’s 800,000 registered voters.

That could be a good thing for the front-runner. Low turnout and low interest, many believe, will work to the advantage of the best-known name on the ballot — that is, Tsongas. In fact, it’s been widely speculated that this schedule, precipitated by the timing of Meehan’s departure, was set up by the congressman and state Democratic insiders to help ensure Tsongas’s election.

The other candidates, unable to buy widespread name recognition in this race, are trying to cobble together winning totals from small slivers of the electorate and aggressive get-out-the-vote efforts.

Tsongas starts with most voters holding the pen over her name — she merely needs to reassure them that there’s no reason to vote against her. That is a much easier task, and one she appears to be achieving.

On the Web
David Bernstein's Talking Politics blog: http://www.thephoenix.com/talkingpolitics

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