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Tsongas raising most funds for representative race

Seeks to fill Meehan seat

Niki Tsongas has raised $1 million for her campaign. Niki Tsongas has raised $1 million for her campaign.

Niki Tsongas is outpacing her fellow Democratic challengers in the race to fill the Fifth Congressional District seat with more than $1 million in contributions, but they say their campaigns are about more than money.

Tsongas, widow of Paul Tsongas, who once held the same seat, said her contributions have ranged from $1 from a Methuen High School student to $80,000 raised during a fund-raising event last month.

Going into the final eight weeks of the primary race, Tsongas has $565,000 left to finance her campaign. She's donated $4,600 to her campaign to be the first woman in the Massachusetts congressional delegation since 1983, when Republican Margaret Heckler left office.

"We're very pleased with the outpouring of support that Niki has enjoyed," said campaign spokeswoman Katie Elbert. "We think it shows broad support behind her campaign."

Only about $30,000, or 3 percent, of the total was generated by the endorsement of Emily's List, a national fund-raising organization dedicated to helping elect more women to Congress, according to Elbert. The group is trying to raise $1.5 million for Tsongas's candidacy.

Among those who live outside Massachusetts contributing to Tsongas was musician Don Henley, who gave $4,600. Henley lives in California.

Other Democrats in the race say they are holding their own in the fund-raising arena but are also focused on meeting with voters one to one to build support.

State Representative Barry Finegold has raised about $725,000 to date, including $414,000 in the past quarter, leaving him with $450,000 cash on hand for the final primary stretch.

A spokeswoman for Finegold said the money was a mix of smaller donations made online and larger contributions from longtime supporters.

"We're very pleased," Nairi Tashjian said. "We're hitting all our fund-raising goals. We're where we need to be to run an aggressive race and communicate with the Fifth District voters."

Veteran Lowell City Councilor Eileen Donoghue has raised $572,000, including a $325,000 loan she made to the campaign, and has $275,000 left in the bank.

The decision to shift from fund-raising mode to campaign mode was deliberate, according to the campaign.

"Eileen has chosen to spend more time engaging with voters talking about what's important to them," said campaign spokeswoman Amy Lambiaso, "To us it's a better strategy."

Calls to another candidate, state Representative James Miceli of Wilmington, were not returned yesterday.

The lone Republican in the race, retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel James Ogonowski of Dracut -- the brother of an American Airlines pilot killed in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks -- has raised $170,000 so far and has $115,000 on hand, spokesman Barney Keller said.

The Democratic primary is scheduled for Sept. 4. The general election is Oct. 16.

Tsongas has tried to build her fund-raising base in part by appealing to women. She raised $80,000 last month at a "Women for Niki" event.

And in a recent new release, the campaign said that a majority of her donations came from women "who have stepped forward to support Tsongas because they believe it's time to send the first woman from Massachusetts to Congress in 25 years."

During the 2006 election cycle, Emily's List endorsed 44 candidates for House, Senate, and gubernatorial seats and generated $11 million for them in contributions averaging under $100.

The group chose to endorse Tsongas over Donoghue because they thought Tsongas had better name recognition, a larger base of supporters, and a better chance of winning.

Whoever wins will fill the seat left vacant by the departure of Martin Meehan, who stepped down to become chancellor at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.

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