Niki Tsongas Leaving Congress at End of Term

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U.S. Representative Niki Tsongas (D-Lowell) will not seek re-election in 2018, she announced Wednesday morning.

Tsongas, 71, the widow of former U.S. Senator Paul Tsongas (1941-1997), was first elected in October 2007, in a special election to replace Marty Meehan, who left Congress to become chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.

She represents the Third District in Massachusetts, which stretches from portions of Essex County in the east into Worcester County to the west (all along the New Hampshire border), and as far south as Sudbury in Middlesex County.

Tsongas is a conventional liberal Democrat who has won re-election comfortably the last few times out, getting between 63 and 69 percent of the vote. But when she first won in 2007 (before the most recent redistricting), she beat the Republican nominee by only 51-45.

All nine U.S. House of Representatives districts in Massachusetts are represented by Democrats, and the Democratic primary winner will likely be the general election favorite in all of them in November 2018. But Republicans looking for a breakthrough will at least take a hard look at trying to claim the seat now occupied by Tsongas

In 2014 and 2016, Haverhill Republican Ann Wofford, a chemical engineer, challenged Tsongas, losing handily each time.

The most recent Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts were Peter Blute (who represented a district in central Massachusetts) and Peter Torkildsen (who represented a district in northeastern Massachusetts). Both left office in January 1997, after being defeated for re-election.

The 2007 special election Democratic primary that Tsongas won may provide clues about other Democrats who could be interested in the seat.

In the 2007 special election Democratic primary, Tsongas took 35.6 percent of the vote. Her closest competitor was Eileen Donoghue (31.2 percent), now a state senator from Lowell. Next was Jamie Eldridge (14.5 percent), now a state senator from Acton. Next was Barry Finegold (12.6 percent), a former state senator from Andover who lost in the Democratic primary for state treasurer in 2014. Then came James Miceli (5.9 percent), a state representative from Tewksbury.

Tsongas was working as an intern to Democratic presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy in 1967 when she met her future husband Paul, who was working as an aide on Capitol Hill. Paul Tsongas made a strong run for president in the 1992 Democratic primary, and was the last viable challenger to Bill Clinton, who went on to win the nomination and the presidency that year.

“It has been my heartfelt honor to serve the people of this district over the past ten years and I have been guided all along by an extraordinary role model in my late husband Paul,” Tsongas said in a written statement. “I am so grateful to those who have been there since day one, and to the many great Americans who I have met along the way, all of whom have served as my inspiration and support.”

As a member of Congress in her own right, Niki Tsongas has been a reliable liberal. She supports legal abortion, same-sex marriage, Obamacare, and amnesty for illegal immigrants.

She was an early supporter of Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary of the most recent election cycle.

“I’m especially proud of the role I have been able to play in challenging the ways in which women are treated in the military, understanding that if you change the culture of one of our country’s rightly honored bedrock institutions, you can change a country,” Tsongas said in a written statement.  “That’s why I worked to address the multitude of ways that women in the military, committed to serving our country, have been marginalized. And, that’s why, year after year, I reached across the aisle and co-authored historic reforms to confront and blunt the inexcusable fact of sexual assault in the military and better support survivors by giving them essential legal tools to seek justice.”