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Ogonowski takes Senate bid to Washington

Dracut farmer to challenge Kerry

Jim Ogonowski plans to meet with Republican officials. Jim Ogonowski plans to meet with Republican officials.
Email|Print| Text size + By Andrew Miga
Associated Press / February 25, 2008

WASHINGTON - Republican Jim Ogonowski is running as a Washington outsider against Senator John Kerry, but he'll be inside the Beltway this week seeking support from national party officials.

Ogonowski, a Dracut hay farmer who narrowly lost a congressional race to Democrat Niki Tsongas last fall, plans to meet with officials at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which gives money and other assistance to GOP Senate candidates.

"I'm looking for support here in Massachusetts from the voters, but I'd also like to have some outside support," Ogonowski said in a recent telephone interview.

A Kerry spokesman scoffed at Ogonowski's candidacy.

"These Republican Senate candidates should spend their time in Washington lobbying FEMA to declare the Massachusetts GOP a federal disaster area and pushing the Interior Department to declare Massachusetts Republicans an endangered species," David Wade said in a statement.

Ogonowski, 50, faces an uphill fight against Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and a four-term senator who was the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004. Ogonowski hopes his surprisingly strong showing against Tsongas in a race that drew national attention will help convince GOP leaders he can topple Kerry.

"People tell me it's David versus Goliath," Ogonowski said. "But David won."

NRSC officials said they are impressed with Ogonowski, who lost by 6 percentage points to Tsongas despite being heavily outspent in the race to replace Lowell Democrat Martin Meehan.

Tsongas got a boost from Democratic heavyweights such as Bill Clinton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who campaigned for her.

"He's got a very compelling story," said NRSC spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher.

"You could not ask for a better candidate in that state. . . . He's not a typical Senate candidate by any means, which is good."

Ogonowski, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who runs his family's farm, is the brother of an airline pilot killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

But Fisher said the NRSC has not made any decisions about funding for the Massachusetts contest.

Ogonowski is vying to be the GOP nominee with Jeffrey Beatty, a Harwich, Mass., businessman. The Republican primary is in September.

Beatty, a former Army Delta Force officer, ran unsuccessfully against Representative William Delahunt, a Massachusetts Democrat, in 2006.

Ron Kaufman, a veteran GOP strategist and a Republican National Committee member from Massachusetts, said Ogonowski will need at least a few million dollars to be a strong challenger.

Kaufman added that Ogonowski must prove he can mount a strong challenge before he can expect any major financial support from the NRSC.

Ogonowski could get a boost if national political trends run in favor of GOP candidates in 2008, Kaufman said.

Kerry has not had a serious challenger since 1996 when he beat Republican William Weld, former governor, in a lively race that drew considerable national attention. The state GOP had no candidate against Kerry in 2002.

Kerry has about $9.5 million in his campaign account, Wade said. That gives Kerry a strong fund-raising advantage as the race unfolds.

Ogonowski, who announced his candidacy last month, would not say how much money he has raised.

"We're going to raise the money that we need to beat John Kerry," he said.

Ogonowski casts Kerry as a wealthy Washington insider who has failed to deliver for Massachusetts and who is out of touch with the concerns of average voters across the state.

"He's more interested in being on the national stage than he is in representing the people of Massachusetts," Ogonowski said.

"You don't see him in the cities and towns across Massachusetts, except in an election year."

The Kerry camp dismissed Ogonowski's charges, citing Kerry's efforts on issues such as helping families avoid foreclosure and his role in winning $13 million in disaster aid for struggling Massachusetts fishermen.

"John Kerry will keep fighting for Massachusetts families," Wade said.

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