For all the talk that Hillary Clinton is running a strong campaign, I think she's quite vulnerable in a general election. The MA-05 election results, while you could chalk them up to a weak Democratic general election candidate and localized conditions, suggests that the strategy of running as a nonpartisan get things done Republican against corrupt DC Democratic insider could work. And let's not forget, that the local dynamics notwithstanding, Ogonowski was outspent 4:1.
Giuliani is a potentially strong Republican nominee in Ogonowksi's mold, given that the right-wing noise machine, combined with Democratic ineptitude on communications, will give him the opportunity to systematically lie about his entire record and that of his opponent. He is crazy on the Middle East, and will destroy America, but it's not clear enough that Clinton takes a different posture on Iran to have that matter. There's actually a good but depressing case to be made that there is much less room between any of the top candidates on Iran, that the 2008 election doesn't actually matter, and that all that does matter is the gobs of money being printed by the Fed and shipped to our enemies to pay for the war in Iraq.
But let's talk politics and what the MA-05 race means for the 2008 election. Clinton is running a reasonable primary campaign, but in a general election campaign, though, it's going to be very difficult for her to get around perceived slippery answers on Iraq, Iran, and even torture. She will have to make news to drown out the lies, something her current campaign isn't doing.
While I've thought for some time that the public has learned to hate Republicans over the past seven years, I'm not so sure anymore. Ogonowski wouldn't commit to voting for children's health care, and he came within 6 of beating Tsongas. More than that, I think his basic argument is correct. This Congress is broken. Nancy Pelosi promised to 'drain the swamp' and change directions in Iraq. That hasn't happened. Jim Webb in his state of the Union response said that if Bush did not shift strategies 'Democrats would show him the way'. That hasn't happened.
Ultimately, Ogonowski's argument is that there is no difference between the parties, that both are full of people who break faith to the voters. And given that the Democratic Congress lied to the American public, promising but not delivering change in Iraq, it's actually true. Tsongas ran a campaign playing into that, saying that her vote would end the war, which of course it won't.
When Clinton says she'll end the war, while keeping troops in Iraq, the Republicans will be sure to point out that this is double-speak. My crystal ball is blurry as always, and I have no idea how the Republican candidate will handle President Bush being a militaristic asshole (he can't help it) while the candidate tries to run around convincing everyone that Republicans stand for not Bush. I can see a weird scenario where the Republican says that the Bush-Clinton war was a mistake, pointing out that Bush executed the war while Clinton authorized it, but that we have to get it right now or we'll have to go back later. This was Ogonowski's line, and it seemed to work well enough.
Clinton might go all Kerry-esque with the 'I voted for the authorization not the war', since that's what she genuinely thinks, and I'm now going to vomit a little in my mouth. I can see now how all the people who think Clinton's campaign is great instead of a vicious back biting swamp that all campaigns turn out to be will turn on her, as they did Kerry's campaign. And really a campaign isn't that complicated, but is always 'garbage moving in the right direction'. There are a few key decisions that matter, and that's it. Clinton made the decision to run as John Kerry 2.0, since he nearly won. And Democratic primary voters don't really have a choice, since Clinton's the only candidate who actually understands how crazy the right-wing really is. But anyway, Clinton could be saddled with her war vote, and Iraq may no longer be Bush's war in 2008. She'll promise to end the war, but then again, so did the Democratic Congressional leaders. And they didn't.
There are a lot of variables here, so one question how do we think through testing the blurring model that Ogonowski semi-successfully used. I'm having trouble at this point advocating for a Democratic President, except that I think another Republican administration is a threat to the well-being of everyone I care about. If I were Lee Atwater, I'd know how I'd run the Republican campaign. It would be dirty, it would be nasty, it would be full of lies, and it would hit the Democrat from all sides, but above all, on the notion of trust. And it's hard to argue that you should trust these Democrats.
UPDATE: There's more dismal polling.