Harvard, Mass.

On October 9, the flea market in Harvard--the town an hour west of Boston, not the school--saw some good old-fashioned retail politicking. Republican House candidate Jon Golnik of the Fifth Congressional District was shaking hands, talking about issues, and introducing himself to just about everyone.

“We’re going to be outraised, we’re going to be outspent,” Golnik told me. “But we’re not going to be outworked.”

Most of that work is making sure voters know who Golnik is. The businessman from Carlisle is facing congresswoman Niki Tsongas, the widow of legendary Bay State Democrat Paul Tsongas. Niki Tsongas first won the Fifth District seat--which includes old industrial towns like Haverhill, Lowell, and Lawrence--by just 6 points in a 2007 special election (51 percent to 45 percent). Tsongas was unopposed in 2008, when Obama carried the district by 20 points.

“I’m running against an incumbent who votes 98 percent of the time with Nancy Pelosi and the leadership in Washington, D.C.,” Golnik said. “Her rhetoric is that she’s bipartisan, her rhetoric is that no one tells her how to vote, her rhetoric is that she’s in the district every weekend. Now we just know this not to be true. If you have to say it, chances are you’re not doing it.”

“Her rhetoric doesn’t match her voting record,” Golnik added.

Tsongas has been a reliable Democratic vote on liberal agenda items like cap-and-trade, the stimulus, and health care. The district voted for Scott Brown last January, when the debate over health care was at its height. Golnik says voters are just as fired up about the issue now, having their vote for Brown essentially ignored when health care reform passed anyway.

“Health care was forced down our throats,” Golnik said. “It is a bad bill.” Without missing a beat, he then explained how the reform law hurts the Massachusetts economy. “It’s also a job-killer,” he said. “There’s a 2.3 percent excise tax on medical device manufacturers. For a person who is concerned about the hollowing out of the manufacturing base in the Fifth District, how anybody could vote for a 2.3 percent excise tax on medical device manufacturers is beyond the pale.”

Golnik’s at his best when he rattles off statistics about the economy. “The stimulus package put $625 million into the Commonwealth, created 12,400 jobs,” he said. “That’s at a cost per job of more than $50,000 a job. Jobs are not created by the public sector, jobs are created by the private sector, the sustainable jobs are.”

And on taxes and spending, Golnik says the Democratic Congress has essentially been derelict in duty.

“It’s shameful that they didn’t extend those Bush tax cuts before they left Congress,” Golnik said. “They adjourned two weeks earlier without voting for an extension of the tax cuts, without voting on the budget. Why didn’t they do that? They don’t want to have a cudgel for their opponents in the elections. That’s shameful. And they say, ‘oh, well, we shouldn’t extend it for the top two percent.’ You wanna know something? The top two percent, a large portion of those people are small business owners who file as individuals. We need certainty. Extend those Bush tax cuts for a year.”

The Tsongas campaign, like many Democratic campaigns this year, is trying to depict Golnik as a radical on issues like Social Security reform. Just like Barney Frank has done with Sean Bielat in the neighboring Fourth District, Tsongas is arguing Golnik wants to “privatize” Social Security. Golnik says it’s nonsense.

“Anyone who is entering the workforce should have the option, the choice—right, choice is good, choice is truly American—should have the option to put a percentage, twenty to twenty-five percent of their Social Security into private investment accounts,” he said. “That’s not privatization, that’s choice.” Golnik also called Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan’s Roadmap for America plan on entitlement reform “fantastic.”

So can this conservative win in Massachusetts? Even in Harvard, where Martha Coakley beat Scott Brown by nine points, there are bumper stickers and yard signs for Jon Golnik everywhere. The built-in advantage for Democrats, who outnumber Republicans 3 to 1, is a tough hurdle to clear, but it’s the fifty percent of voters unaffiliated with either party that he’ll be targeting with his message. Golnik, in explaining the importance of his fundraising, described the state of the race in stark terms.

“We can’t project our message without raising the money,” he said. “If we can’t project our message, we can’t win.”

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