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A silver lining for Republicans?

October 23, 2007 |  4:08 pm

We had speculated on the day of the vote last week that a special House election in Massachusetts might resonate even if, as expected, Democrat Niki Tsongas ended up being the candidate sworn into office.  And two articles in major newspapers today pick over the strong showing by Republican Jim Ogonowski, interpreting it as a warning shot to Democrats anticipating nothing but blue skies in 2008.

The Washington Post follow-up spotlights illegal immigration -- which Ogonowski pounded on -- as the issue that propelled him to within shouting distance of Tsongas, 51% to 45%, in a traditionally Democratic district.  Tsongas' "underwhelming victory," the Post writes, "has rekindled Democratic concerns" that the party's more liberal stance on dealing with illegal immigrants could prove an Achilles' heel for its candidates elsewhere in the country.

Buttressing that view is no less than Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, the architect of the Democratic takeover of the House in the 2006 elections.  Illegal immigration, he says, has "emerged as the third rail of American politics" -- a phrase applied in the past to the political peril surrounding efforts to alter Social Security.

In the Boston Globe, Washington bureau chief Peter Canellos opines that Tsongas' "disappointingly small margin" underscored worries within the party "that the Democratic-led Congress was going off its rails."

Canellos details the frustrations Democrats have encountered in pursuing their agenda on Capitol Hill -- especially the push to rein in the Iraq war.  And as evidenced by the election in Massachusetts, the columnist sees that as a looming problem for the party next year.

House Democratic leaders, it appears, are heeding the warning signs.  The Hill, which specializes in covering Congress, reports today that Democratic leaders intend to "embark on a publicity blitz starting in November to combat a dismal 25 percent approval rating" in a recent poll.

Given the general contempt with which many Americans hold our esteemed lawmakers -- even in the best of times -- we can only suggest they not set their sights too high for a rebound.

-- Don Frederick