By Ross Marrinson
The journey began for Jon Golnik just under one year ago on Nov. 22, 2009.
It ended Nov. 2, 2010. After almost 12 months campaigning across the 5th Congressional District, Carlisle Republican Jon Golnik lost his campaign to unseat Democratic incumbent Niki Tsongas, who will return to Washington D.C. to begin her second full term.
With 92 percent of the precincts reporting, Tsongas had 112,849 votes to Golnik's 87,403.
"I want to thank you for your confidence in me and for giving me the privilege of representing you in Congress once again," Tsongas said at her election-night party in downtown Lowell. "I want you all to know that I will not let you down."
Tsongas defeated Republican Jim Ogonowski in a special election in 2007 when then-Congressman Marty Meehan left Congress to become chancellor at UMass-Lowell. Tsongas then ran unopposed in 2008.
When she returns to D.C., she said she'll continue to work to spur job creation.
"To all of those who are unemployed or underemployed or desperately trying to hold on to jobs while big corporations ship them overseas, I pledge to you that there will be no more urgent priority than to create the jobs that will get our economy back on track and get you back to work," she said. "And I will not stand by while the jobs we need are shipped abroad. I will stand with you."
The 5th District, and particularly Haverhill, is known for its moderate voting record compared to the rest of Massachusetts. In the 2010 special election to fill the seat of former Senator Ted Kennedy, Scott Brown, who defeated Democrat Martha Coakley in stunning fashion, garnered 57 percent of the District's vote. Haverhill voted 60 percent for Brown just 11 months ago.
Tuesday night, the voters again showed their independence, voting 52 to 45 percent for Tsongas. Out of Haverhill's 22 precincts, 17 went for Tsongas.
"When we lost Haverhill, that's when we really knew it was over," Golnik said.
Golnik realized he was fighting an uphill battle early, when Tsongas took Methuen by 188 votes.
"That's when I knew we were in trouble," he said.
It didn't get much better, as the Carlisle resident proceeded to lose Lowell 63-34, Lawrence 80-17 and Haverhill, while winning typical Republican strongholds Dracut and Chelmsford by just three and two percent, respectively.
The Golnik camp focused on all 29 cities and towns in the District, a strategy Golnik called "an inclusive race." The strategy may have cost him. Tsongas won Lowell 63-34 percent, Lawrence 80-17 and Haverhill.
"We just didn't do it in the North," Golnik said.
Alicia Preston, Golnik's senior campaign advisor, said she doesn't regret the strategy to give each area of the District equal attention.
"Our strategy was to focus on all the towns equally," she said. "Let's not say that the voters in Lowell are more important than the voters in Groton, or vice versa. We came up short."
Golnik held his campaign party at Billerica's Courtyard Marriott with family, friends and staffers. 100 people watched the results stream in on three TVs in a lobby ballroom, while Golnik, his immediate family and key staff members watched from their suite upstairs.
The former American International Group Vice President has lived in Carlisle since 2001, and maneuvered his campaign through its share of adversity, including a fire in his first Westford campaign headquarters, criticism over his lack of voting record in the 5th District and a drunk driving arrest nine years ago.
"Those are things that might have hurt him," said Haverhill City Councilor Bill Ryan, a member of Golnik's leadership team. "(The Democrats) were able to energize their base. They did a good job with that."
Merrimack College Adjunct Political Science Professor Mary McHugh believes that Golnik — and the Republicans overall in Massachusetts — may have fallen victim to their own message of anger and anti-incumbency.
"You wonder of all the anti-incumbent talk, the Republicans, the whole idea of anger and rage ... the Democrats are watching their party, their candidates, their President get beat up," she said. "Maybe it got the Democrats defensive. That 5 or 10 percent that may not have voted (went to the polls) ... I've been hearing the message of "It's only been two years, give these people a little time."
McHugh also acknowledged the importance of name recognition.
"She's still the incumbent. As much as we've been hearing about the anti-incumbency wave, there's the whole "People don't like Congress, but they like their Congressmen," she said. "I wonder if that's what happened."
Ryan, a former Haverhill Mayor, believes Golnik has what it takes to win, but acknowledged the difficulty of running from an apolitical background.
"To go from business to Congress is very difficult," he said. I'm hopeful he'll do it again."
Golnik said he doesn't regret his campaign's strategy or message.
"It was a good learning experience," he said. "I'm very proud."
Staff writer Brian Messenger contributed to this report.
• • •
Join the discussion. To comment on stories and see what others are saying, log on to hgazette.com. You can follow Ross on Twitter at twitter.com/rosshgazette.