Fighting to Make a Name for Himself

On the Stump With Tsongas

The candidate glances apprehensively at his watch, grimacing when he realizes he is running 15 minutes behind schedule. His advance man, trying to relax his boss, tells him of the time vice presidential hopeful Sargent Shriver arrived three hours late for a rally in New Hampshire during the 1972 campaign, only to find no one there. The candidate responds jokingly that it would have made no difference if Shriver were on time; no one would have been there anyway.

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But for Rep. Paul Tsongas, who is campaigning for Ed Brooke's U.S. Senate seat, time is crucial. The polls show that Tsongas is running well behind the front runner, Secretary of State Paul Guzzi '64, in the race for the Democratic nomination. A poll taken about a month ago by Pat Caddell '72, President Carter's favorite pollster, showed Guzzi had three times more support than Tsongas, and that the Congressman was even 1 per cent behind the other major candidate, Boston School Committee member Kathleen Sullivan Alioto. Tsongas's own poll, taken slightly after the Caddell poll, shows him to be in second place, but still well behind Guzzi.

Tsongas, however, has grown accustomed to his current catch-up position--he came from behind four years ago to beat the Republican incumbent for the right to represent Massachusetts' Fifth District in Congress. But as he pointed out three weeks ago, that time he campaigned for 21 months and still only had to win over the residents of a single district. This time has has only five months to convince the six million people throughout the state to vote for him.

There are some indications' that Congressman Tsongas might be able to win over enough of those six million to catch Guzzi. Tsongas's poll shows Guzzi, holder of a very visible statewide office, is leading largely on the strength of his greater exposure. Among those voters familiar with all three major candidates for the nomination, however, Tsongas wins, advance man David Goldman says. Another point in his favor, Tsongas adds, is that projections show he is capable of raising more money than Guzzi. Both candidates, however, will raise less than Alioto, who has at her disposal the personal wealth of her father, owner of Metropolitan Oil and the New England Patriots football team, and her husband, the former mayor of San Francisco.

It appears that Tsongas's chances rest on his ability to use the money he raises to increase his exposure in areas outside of his home district--especially the western part of the state. So far, the efforts aimed at making "Tsongas" a familiar name seem to have been fairly successful: a television and radio campaign in western Massachusetts has doubled the candidate's visibility, Goldman says. Now, in hopes of doing the same in the east, and because he can afford the $2000-and-up price-tag of a 30-second slot of air time on Boston television stations, Tsongas just last week began airing spots on the local channels.

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Even with the help of T.V., the task before Tsongas is not easy. The congressman is already fairly well known in Cambridge and the surrounding area, having served as a Middlesex County commissioner before entering Congress. Still, to ensure that no one has forgotten his name and his past accomplishments, Tsongas spent an afternoon in Cambridge, Somerville, Arlington and Belmont several weeks ago. His experiences that day, although not typical, provide a good idea of the difficulties Tsongas faces in his battle to increase his name recognition.

After a brief stop at the offices of the Cambridge Chronicle, Tsongas, accompanied by Goldman and Charles Zgonis, Tsongas's campaign coordinator in the Cambridge area, arrived at Cambridge City Hall five minutes late. Their first stop was the office of city manager James L. Sullivan.

"You got my vote," Sullivan told Tsongas. But this declaration did not boost Tsongas's hopes much--the two men are already good friends, dating back to the days when Tsongas was a Lowell City Councilor and Sullivan was Lowell city manager, so the endorsement was expected.

Sullivan took the candidate on a tour of most of the city offices. "How you doing, Paul Tsongas, running for United States Senate," Tsongas repeated to every tax collector, auditor, clerk and secretary he met, always placing the accent on his name. The reactions he received ranged from disinterested nods to an embrace and kiss from one secretary; that seemed to ensure him one vote at least, but the stop could not be considered a complete success. Several city councilors who were supposed to meet with Tsongas were not around.

Just as Tsongas was leaving City Hall he was already expected at Somerville City Hall--and he still had to make an interview scheduled at radio station WCAS in Central Square before he could go anywhere else.

At Somerville City Hall, as he had in Cambridge, Tsongas toured all the offices but again encountered bad luck: the mayor was not in. The only bright spot during this stop came on the way to Somerville, when a policeman generously did not pull over the campaign car after it made an illegal U-turn in front of him.

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The WCAS interview was one of the few chances Tsongas had during the day to discuss issues. Fielding a question on his stand on nuclear energy, Tsongas replied that he favors using light water reactors, the type being built at Seabrook, N.H., because he believes the energy alternative--coal-- is worse. Even though the problem of how to dispose of the radioactive waste from such reactors has not been solved, Tsongas said using coal to replace the 30 per cent of total energy now supplied by nuclear power would be disastrous, raising the chance that it could bring about harmful climactic changes.

Tsongas told the interviewer, however, that he opposes the breeder reactor because the radioactive plutonium it produces could be used by nations not now possessing nuclear capability to make nuclear weapons. The Congressman expressed the fear that the "breeder is slipping through Congress while everyone is concerned about the light water reactor."

As one listens to Tsongas there emerges the unmistakeable impression that, although he has drawn the support of many of the idealistic liberals in the state, he is not one of them; he is a far more pragmatic liberal.

His stand on defense budget cuts is typical. In the House he voted against the B-1 bomber and the neutron bomb, but also opposed efforts to cut defense-related jobs at the Mitre Corporation in Bedford, Lincoln Labs in Lexington, and Cambridge Research Laboratories at Hanscom Field. He also worked against attempts to close Fort Devens, and to remove funding for ballistic missile defense program research from the defense appropriations package.

The reason for this apparent schizophrenia is simple: Tsongas has approved cuts that did not affect Massachusetts jobs, but kept hands off programs that provide jobs for residents of the Commonwealth--especially residents of the Fifth District.

In addition to this piecemeal approach to maintaining employment in his district, Tsongas points to downtown development of older cities as a way of dealing with the problem. He never fails to inform listeners of the major achievement of his four years in Congress--authoring legislation, which was recently signed into law, to get the rundown city of Lowell declared as an urban national park--to commemorate it as the country's first planned industrial city. As a result, he maintains, the city will be able to tap federal funds for its revitalization efforts and new industry will be attracted to Lowell and along with them, new jobs.

Although other Massachusetts cities--such as New Bedford, Fall River, Lynn, Worcester and Springfield could not be declared national parks, Tsongas says they can all benefit from programs geared to their special situations.

Tsongas also eagerly points out his strong support for Israel. He says he has continually supported efforts to increase arms sales to that country and opposed attempts to cut military aid. He also voted against the Carter administration's package for selling arms to Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

In other foreign policy matters, Tsongas is leading the current fight against lifting the embargo on Rhodesian chrome, and has also opposed the ending of the arms embargo against Turkey. Earlier this year, he authored legislation to prohibit the U.S. Export-Import Bank from providing loans to South Africa.

The big issues of this campaign, however, are Brooke's famous "misstatement" during his divorce proceedings, and Guzzi's late entry into the race in apparent response to Brooke's sudden vulnerability. The reason for the proliferation of small issues, in turn, is that Tsongas, Guzzi and even Brooke do not differ greatly on the substantive issues.

Yes, Brooke favored the neutron bomb, but Tsongas now attacks the senator on what he terms his "performance" and his "accessibility," not his record. "When was the last time you saw Brooke?" and "When was the last time Brooke did anything for you?" are the questions Tsongas asks the voters. He does not question Brooke's stand on nuclear energy or arms sales to Israel. And, although neither Tsongas nor any other candidate will mention it, the question they clearly hope the voters are asking about Brooke is, "Can he be trusted?"

Tsongas and Guzzi differ even less on the issues. Indeed, when Tsongas entered the race, which was at a time when Guzzi had no intention of following suit, the secretary of state gave Tsongas lists of his financial supporters, a sort of unofficial endorsement, Tsongas says. And, because the two candidates' positions are so similar, Tsongas received a substantial amount of money from those people--before Guzzi tossed his hat into the ring.

Tsongas says his previous experience in the Congress sets him apart from Guzzi. "They can all tell you what they're going to do, Congressman Paul Tsongas can tell you what he's done," says one piece of his campaign literature. But a good number of liberals who support Tsongas are doing so because they are infuriated at Guzzi for entering the race late, thereby splitting the liberals who had been solidly behind Tsongas.

But the lack of issues separating the candidates, and Tsongas's own difficulty in increasing his exposure, will likely make it difficult for the Congressman to convince enough of Guzzi's traditional liberal following, as well as other voters, to switch their allegiances.

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After his WCAS interview, Tsongas stepped into the offices of the Acupuncture Center of Cambridge, located in the same building. At that time he asked one of the employees whether they could cure "political pains." Perhaps Tsongas would be wise to return now and find out if they can.