Yesterday, I linked to a piece in which Michael Barone suggested that the Republicans may soon begin once again to benefit from the tax issue, particularly in high-income suburban jurisdictions. Barone concluded his column by discussing the special election in Massachusetts’ 5th congressional district. This is a high-income district last carried by Republicans in 1972 (when John Kerry was the Democratic nominee). The Republican candidate was Jim Ogonowoski, brother of one of the pilots killed on 9-11. His main issues were taxes and immigration. According to Barone, Democrat Niki Tsongas, widow of the late senator, campaigned on a platform similar to those of most Democrats in 2006.
Today the results are in. Tsongas won but, as Josh Marshall observes, the details are much more interesting. Tsongas won by approximately 6 percentage points, about half the normal Democratic margin and 10 points less than the margin last time.
This doesn’t mean that taxes played a major role in the swing towards the Republican. Other possible explanations include the fact that the Repub candidate was simply much more attractive than the Dem. Ogonowoski apparently crushed Tsongas among younger voters, who may have been focused more on style than on taxes.
As I said last night, I think the tax issue is still largely a sleeping giant, but perhaps he started to stir yesterday in Massachusetts.
UPDATE: At The Corner, David Freddoso points out that the Ogonowoski ran as a “dovish pragmatist” on Iraq. He said he had opposed the Iraq War from the beginning, and wanted a sensible way of getting the troops out. Both candidates opposed a precipitous withdrawal, so that Iraq became essentially a non-issue. Freddoso “doubts that many Republican House candidates will run on a dovish platform in 2008,” and thus isn’t confident that yesterday’s election signifies a trend.
My sense is that Republican challengers in swing districts will take positions comparable to Ogonowoski’s to the extent necessary to negate the issue of Iraq. Under-pressure Republican incumbents, of course, will have far less flexibility.
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