|Jim Ogonowski plans to run an aggressive grass-roots campaign|
Vowing to fight illegal immigration, reduce US military presence in Iraq, and wean the nation off oil imports, Republican Jim Ogonowski has announced that he will challenge incumbent Democratic Senator John F. Kerry for his US Senate seat.
A Dracut farmer and retired Air Force officer, Ogonowski said yesterday that he plans to run an aggressive grass-roots campaign stressing national security and the need for political reform to promote the interests of ordinary Americans.
"Every place I go I've been hearing the same thing - we need fundamental change in Washington," he said in a phone interview yesterday. "Washington is not working for the American people. I want to serve the people, not the lobbyists and Washington insiders."
Campaigning as a populist reformer pledging to shake up the status quo, Ogonowski lost his bid for Congress last fall in his first run for political office, but garnered 45 percent of the vote and made the race closer than expected in a heavily Democratic area.
Since his defeat by Democrat Niki Tsongas in a race that drew national attention, Ogonowski has met with state activists and party leaders about a potential candidacy, which he said would build on momentum from his congressional campaign. He said Kerry's advantage as an four-term incumbent and nationally known politician was not insurmountable.
"I've heard the race compared to David and Goliath, but David won," he said. "I'm in this race to win it."
Ogonowski joins Jeff Beatty, a military veteran from Harwich who ran unsuccessfully in 2006 against US Representative William Delahunt. Kerry last faced a serious challenge from Republican Governor William Weld in 1996.
Beatty could not reached for comment yesterday.
Ogonowski formally announced his candidacy to the Lowell Sun, which reported the news yesterday. Earlier this month, Ogonowski announced that he was strongly considering a run.
Then, as he did yesterday, Ogonowski criticized Kerry as a wealthy Washington insider out of touch with the day-to-day concerns of average voters.
"It is clear that Washington is broken and the people of Massachusetts are demanding a new voice that will fight for their interests," he said yesterday. "No one represents the status quo, business as usual mentality in Washington, more than John Kerry."
In a statement, Kerry spokesman David Wade said that "Senator Kerry is running for reelection so he can continue fighting to change Washington. John Kerry brings to public service a lifetime of fighting the tough fights for change and standing up with courage and conviction, and he'll keep doing that in the United States Senate."
Kerry holds a huge financial advantage, with nearly $10 million in his campaign accounts, compared with less than $100,000 in Ogonowski's. But Ogonowski said he was confident he could raise the resources necessary to run a strong campaign.
"This race is going to be about the issues," he said.
A poll of 400 registered voters conducted last spring by Suffolk University and 7News found that 56 percent said it was time to give other candidates a chance.
Ogonowski's announcement left him with one less Republican competitor, as Kevin Scott, a former Wakefield selectman who had registered to run for US Senate in the Republican primary in the fall, said yesterday he would drop out and endorse Ogonowski.
"I had told him that if he decided to run, he'd have my support," Scott said. "He's level-headed, very likeable, and extremely electable. I think he'll do very well."
Frank Talty, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, said Ogonowski faces an uphill climb running against an established incumbent during a presidential election year, which will probably produce heavy turnout.
"Massachusetts in and of itself is a very difficult state to run in a presidential year as a Democrat," he said. "Sheer demographics."
Still, Ogonowski's stance as a citizen legislator holds substantial appeal, he said, and a strong statewide campaign could serve as a springboard for a run for the governor's office in 2010.
Ogonoswki, the brother of an airline pilot killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, said national security would be his top priority and said he supported generous investment in energy efficiency research to promote greater energy independence. In September, Ogonowski sharply criticized the Bush administration for the war in Iraq, saying "the president has completely mishandled the situation."
He said he supports making tax cuts passed during the Bush administration permanent and hopes to rein in pork-barrel spending.
"Anything that puts money back in the hands of hard-working Americans, I'm in favor of," he said. "People I talk to are worried when they come home Friday whether their job will be there Monday."
Ogonowski said he supported tough enforcement of immigration laws and that he opposed allowing undocumented residents to hold driver's licenses or receive in-state tuition at public colleges.