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Paul Efthemios Tsongas ( ; February 14, 1941–January 18, 1997) was a United States Senator from Massachusettsmarker and a one-time candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Previously he also served as a U.S. Representative from Massachusetts and held local political office as well.

Early life

Tsongas was born along with a twin sister, Thaleia (Schlesinger), to a working-class Greekmarker father and native Massachusetts mother. He attended Dartmouthmarker, graduating in 1962, Yale Law School and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvardmarker before settling in Lowell, Massachusettsmarker.

He served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopiamarker in 1962–1964, and as Peace Corps Country Director in the West Indiesmarker in 1967–1968.

Political career

Tsongas first entered politics as a city councillor, elected to the Lowell City Council in 1969 where he served two consecutive terms. Tsongas went on to serve as a county commissioner of Middlesex Countymarker, Massachusetts. In 1974 he was elected to the United States House of Representatives, defeating Republican incumbent Paul W. Cronin. He served two terms in the House, and in 1978 he was elected to the Senate, defeating incumbent Edward Brooke. In his early Senatorial career Tsongas made a huge political error in appearing unprepared for an important Senate hearing. During the 1983 Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) hearings Tsongas, representing the affirmative side, appeared so unprepared and unfamiliar with the amendments’ legal ramifications, even supporters were disappointed by his poor presentation.According to journalist Ellen Goodman, “… Sen. Paul Tsongas (D-Mass.) showed up shamefully unprepared for the opening exchange with anti-ERA Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).” (The Milwaukee Sentinel. P. 14. June 10, 1983).His poor showing at the hearing has since given rise to the political term, ‘Tsongased.’ As in, "I hope the Governor doesn't get 'Tsongased' if they bring up foreign investment in the debate tonight."Later that same year he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma and in 1984 announced his retirement from the Senate. His seat went to fellow Democrat and 2004 presidential nominee John Kerry. After fighting the illness he returned to politics and, in 1992, ran for his party's nomination for President. Until the 1992 campaign, he had never lost an election. He was the first former Peace Corps volunteer elected to the U.S. Senate (1978). (He and Christopher Dodd were, in 1974, the first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.)

Presidential campaign


The Tsongas campaign was banking heavily on early success in New Hampshire. Like many of the candidates, Tsongas ignored the 1992 contest in Iowa, which was expected to go overwhelmingly to Iowa's Senator Tom Harkin. Tsongas hoped that his New Englandmarker independence and fiscal conservatism from neighboring Massachusetts would appeal to New Hampshirites. He achieved recognition for the bluntness and clarity of his plan, distributing a short book titled A Call to Economic Arms, which focused on such issues as the growing federal deficit. When asked why he didn't have a tax cut plan like the other candidates, Tsongas famously responded "I'm not Santa Claus." During the early weeks of 1992, things seemed to be going Tsongas's way when one of the potential major candidates, Bill Clinton, stumbled over issues involving marital infidelity and avoidance of the military draft during Vietnam. While Clinton was hurt by these issues, the damage seemed to bottom out several weeks before the New Hampshire primary. While Tsongas was the actual winner in terms of votes received and delegates won, Clinton advisor James Carville tagged Clinton with the label "the Comeback Kid", and claimed that Clinton's campaign was back on track. While ostensibly the front-runner, Tsongas was already considered by many to be behind Clinton after just one primary.

Following the New Hampshire primary, Tsongas was unable to match Clinton's fundraising. Clinton later went on to win most of the Super Tuesday primaries. Tsongas did go on to win delegate contests in Delawaremarker, Marylandmarker, Arizonamarker, Washingtonmarker, Utahmarker, and Massachusettsmarker, but his campaign never recovered from Clinton's comeback; Clinton won the primaries of most of the more populous and delegate-rich states.


Eventually, Tsongas pulled out of the race and endorsed Clinton. However, a number of the Tsongas delegates continued to support the former Senator, and voted for Tsongas at the convention. The roll call yielded 289 votes for Tsongas, placing him in third place, behind Clinton and former Californiamarker governor Jerry Brown.

Political positions

Tsongas was viewed as a social liberal and economic moderate. He was especially known for his pro-business economic policies. In particular, he focused on the U.S.marker budget deficit, a cause he continued to champion after his primary campaign ended, by co-founding The Concord Coalition. Tsongas was often criticized by his opponents as a Reaganomics-style politician, who was closer to Republicans in this matter. In the mid 1980s he shocked many of the members of the Americans for Democratic Action by telling them that they should focus more on economic growth than wealth redistribution.

His most memorable quip might have been, "If anyone thinks the words government and efficiency belong in the same sentence, we have counseling available."

Post career

A few years later the cancer (non-Hodgkins lymphoma) returned. He died of pneumonia and liver failure on January 18, 1997, two days before his term as President would have ended had he been elected in 1992. He was buried at Lowell Cemeterymarker on Knapp Street; his plot is set on Woodbine Path, overlooking the Concord River.

On January 27, 1998, the Tsongas Arenamarker in Lowellmarker was dedicated in his honor.

In a special election held on October 16, 2007, his widow Niki Tsongas won the Massachusetts Congressional seat that Paul once held.

Electoral history

Massachusetts 5th district, 1974
  • Paul Tsongas (D) - 99,518 (60.64%)
  • Paul W. Cronin (R) (inc.) - 64,596 (39.36%)

Massachusetts 5th district, 1976
  • Paul Tsongas (D) (inc.) - 144,217 (67.31%)
  • Roger P. Durkin (D) - 70,036 (32.69%)

Democratic primary for the United States Senate from Massachusetts, 1978

Massachusetts United States Senate election, 1978
  • Paul Tsongas (D) - 1,093,283 (55.06%)
  • Edward Brooke (R) (inc.) - 890,584 (44.85%)
  • Others - 1,833 (0.09%)

United States presidential election, 1992 (Democratic primaries)

See also


  1. New York Times, Ex-Senator Gets Transplant, September 5, 1986. Retrieved Oct. 20, 2007.
  3. Kramer, Michael. (1992-03-02) "The Political Interest: Who Has the Best Plan for Fixing the Economy?", Time
  4. Paul Efthemios Tsongas (1941 - 1997) - Find A Grave Memorial
  5. Tsongas Arena,Lowell MA, Entertainment Venue, Sports, Concerts, Tradeshows, Lock Monsters, RiverHawks
  6. ABC News: Dem Senator's Widow Wins House Seat
  7. Our Campaigns - MA District 05 Race - Nov 04, 1974
  8. Our Campaigns - MA District 05 Race - Nov 02, 1976
  9. Our Campaigns - MA US Senate- D Primary Race - Sep 19, 1978
  10. Our Campaigns - MA US Senate Race - Nov 07, 1978

  • Paul Tsongas. 1984. Heading Home. New York: Knopf. ISBN 0-394-54130-8.

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