Image: Niki Tsongas
Mary Schwalm  /  AP file
Democrat Niki Tsongas, seen in August, won a special election for the U.S. House Tuesday evening to represent Massachusetts.
updated 10/16/2007 9:49:01 PM ET 2007-10-17T01:49:01

The widow of 1992 presidential candidate Paul Tsongas defeated the brother of an American Airlines pilot who died in the Sept. 11 attacks Tuesday in a special election for the U.S. House.

With 86 percent of precincts reporting, Democrat Niki Tsongas had 51 percent of the vote to 46 percent for Republican Jim Ogonowski.

Tsongas, 61, could be sworn in as early as Wednesday to fill the northeastern Massachusetts district seat once held by her late husband. The seat was left empty in July when Democrat Martin Meehan resigned to become chancellor of his alma mater, the University of Massachusetts-Lowell.

Tsongas becomes the only woman in the state’s 10-member House delegation and the first to represent Massachusetts since 1983, when Republican Margaret Heckler left office.

Tsongas and Ogonowski, whose brother John died when his plane was hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center, cast the race as a referendum on President Bush’s policies or a public upbraiding of the Democratically controlled Congress.

Bush and Congress have lagged in recent public opinion polls, and the race may have served as a harbinger of the 2008 presidential campaign. Primaries and caucuses for the White House nominations begin in less than three months.

A flashpoint for Tsongas was Bush’s veto of expanded funding for the State Children’s Health Insurance program.

The House is to vote on a veto override Thursday, and Tsongas lambasted Ogonowski, 50, for refusing to say before the election how he would vote.

“You can continue the change in direction that was started in the midterm elections or you can send someone to Congress who’s basically another vote for George Bush,” said Tsongas, a community college dean.

Tsongas said she would vote for the override.

Ogonowski, a farmer who retired from the Air Force in June after a 28-year career, said he wouldn’t declare his position on the SCHIP bill because he wanted to use his first day in Congress to try to negotiate an alternative.

Won 1992 N.H. primary
Tsongas’ husband died in 1997 of side-effects from the cancer that prompted him to retire from the Senate in 1985. He beat fellow Democrat Bill Clinton in the 1992 New Hampshire primary during a period of remission.

Also on the ballot Tuesday were independent candidates Kurt Hayes and Patrick Murphy and Constitution Party candidate Kevin Thompson.

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