After John McCain’s opposition file on Mitt Romney from 2008 was leaked, there was this curious line: “”Romney voted for Paul Tsongas in the 1992 Democratic presidential primary.” Newt Gingrich has also attacked Romney for his support of Paul Tsongas, a former Massachusetts Democratic senator who ran for his party’s nomination in 1992. Tsongas lost to political upstart, Bill Clinton, and you know the rest.
Left out of most of these analyses is this: “[Romney] added he had been sure the GOP would renominate George Bush, for whom he voted in the fall election.” (Scot Lehigh and Frank Phillips, “GOP’s Romney Declares, Says Kennedy Out of Date,” The Boston Globe, February 3, 1994).
Romney’s support of Tsongas actually proves something other than Romney’s most vociferous critics are claiming: Mitt Romney’s willingness to work across the aisle to tackle the deficit.
As a Massachusetts native-turned-refugee, allow me to explain. The late Senator Paul Tsongas was the rarest of rare, especially in Massachusetts, a Democrat who wanted to alert the country to the threat of deficit spending. The Boston Herald described Tsongas as having a “pro-growth stance.” And Romney told the Boston Globe in ’94 that he voted for Tsongas because he “favored his ideas over those of Bill Clinton.” Romney explained in 2007 that his vote in the Democratic primary was an effort “to vote for the person who I thought would be the weakest opponent for a Republican.” (This isn’t all that odd. Despite being a lifelong Republican, I myself have done it, especially when it seemed that the corrupt Massachusetts Republican Party wasn’t going to bother fielding a candidate.)
Romney’s support for Tsongas was likely more personal than it was political. Romney often attended events sponsored by the Tsongas-backed Concord Coalition, a budget deficit reduction advocacy group Tsongas co-founded with former New Hampshire Sen. Warren Rudman. Only at the 11th hour did Tsongas come out and endorse Ted Kennedy, and, in fact, Tsongas came to Romney’s aid early in his 1994 bid to unseat Ted Kennedy. In March 1994, the Concord Coalition graded Kennedy poorly–22%!– on votes he cast in 1993 to reduce the deficit. This irked Kennedy, prompting Tsongas to call him a “flake.” (Donald Lambro, “In the Race of His Life, Kennedy Flees the Past; Romney’s Son Bores in on Spending,” The Washington Times, August 3, 1994).