Paul Efthemios Tsongas (/ˈsɒŋɡəs/; February 14, 1941 – January 18, 1997) was an American politician and a United States Senator from Massachusetts from 1979 to 1985, who had served as a U.S. Representative from Massachusetts's 5th congressional district (1975–1979) and in local political office. He won seven (7) states as a candidate in the 1992 Democratic presidential primaries, losing the nomination to Bill Clinton.
Tsongas was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, along with a twin sister, Thaleia, to a once working-class family who came to own a very successful dry cleaning business in Lowell. His father, Efthemios George Tsongas, was a Greek immigrant, and his mother, Katina (née Pappas; originally Panagiotopoulos), was of Greek descent.
Paul attended Dartmouth College, graduating in 1962 with an A.B. in economics, then Yale Law School and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University before settling in Lowell, Massachusetts.
He served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia from 1962–1964, and as Peace Corps Country Director in the West Indies from 1967–1968.
In 1967 Paul Tsongas, working as an aide to Congressman F. Bradford Morse, met Niki Sauvage, who was spending the summer in Arlington, Virginia. They were married in 1969, and had three daughters: Ashley, Katina, and Molly.
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 County, Massachusetts. In 1974 he ran for United States House of Representatives from a district anchored by Lowell. The district had elected only three Democrats in its entire existence and had been in Republican hands continuously since 1895. However, in the massive Democratic wave of the post-Watergate election of 1974, he defeated freshman Republican Paul W. Cronin by a 21-point margin. He was reelected in 1976, becoming the first Democrat to hold the district for more than one term. Increasingly popular and well-liked in Massachusetts, in 1978 he ran for and was elected to the Senate, defeating incumbent Republican Edward Brooke by a 10-point margin.
In 1983, he was diagnosed with cancer, non-Hodgkins lymphoma and in 1984 announced his retirement from the Senate. His seat went to fellow Democrat, 2004 presidential nominee and United States Secretary of State John Kerry. After undergoing a bone marrow transplant to treat the disease in 1986 and receiving a clean bill of health from doctors in 1991, he returned to politics, running for his party's nomination for President in 1992. Until the 1992 campaign, Tsongas had never lost an election. He was the first former Peace Corps volunteer elected to the U.S. Senate (1978). (In 1974, he and Christopher Dodd were the first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.)
Tsongas was generally viewed as a social liberal and an economic moderate. He was especially known for his efforts in Congress in support of historic preservation and environmental conservation on the one hand, as well as for his pro-business economic policies on the other.
He played a major role while in the House in the creation of Lowell National Historical Park, as well as in the establishment or expansion of a number of other National Park System areas.
He played an equally key role later in the Senate, working closely with then Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus, in successful passage of the massive Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980, which had been hopelessly deadlocked in the Senate since its original passed by the House in 1978.
Relative to business and economic matters, Tsongas focused in particular on the Federal budget deficit, a cause he continued to champion even after his presidential primary campaign ended, by co-founding the Concord Coalition.
Tsongas was criticized on occasion by opponents as a Reaganomics-style politician, and as being closer to Republicans with regard to such issues. The Boston Herald editorialized that his political philosophy had "far more in common" with 1990s-era Republican Mitt Romney (who crossed over to vote for Tsongas in the 1992 primaries) than with traditional Massachusetts Democrats like Ted Kennedy. 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.
He once quipped, "If anyone thinks the words government and efficiency belong in the same sentence, we have counselling available."
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 England 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 did not have a tax cut plan like the other candidates, Tsongas famously answered, "I'm not trying to play 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 Delaware, Maryland, Arizona, Washington, Utah, and Massachusetts, 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 then-former California Governor Jerry Brown.
In late 1994, Tsongas briefly led an effort to establish a third party, to be led by someone with "national authority", suggesting General Colin Powell for that role. By that time, he was considered "the most popular political figure in Massachusetts."
A few years later, the cancer (non-Hodgkins lymphoma) returned. He died of pneumonia and liver failure on January 18, 1997, at age 55. He is buried at Lowell Cemetery on Knapp Street; his plot is set on Woodbine Path, overlooking the Concord River. His death in 1997 came two days before the end of the presidential term he campaigned for in 1992.
On January 27, 1998, the Tsongas Arena in Lowell was dedicated in his honor.
In a special election held on October 16, 2007, his widow Niki won the Massachusetts Congressional seat that Paul once held.
Preservation Massachusetts, a statewide nonprofit focused on preserving Massachusetts history, has an annual Paul Tsongas Award to honor restoration workers in the state.
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
- Paul Tsongas - 296,915 (35.55%)
- Paul Guzzi - 258,960 (31.01%)
- Kathleen Alioto - 161,036 (19.28%)
- Howard Phillips - 65,397 (7.83%)
- Elaine Noble - 52,464 (6.28%)
- Others - 379 (0.05%)
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)
- Bill Clinton - 10,482,411 (52.01%)
- Jerry Brown - 4,071,232 (20.20%)
- Paul Tsongas - 3,656,010 (18.14%)
- Unpledged - 750,873 (3.73%)
- Bob Kerrey - 318,457 (1.58%)
- Tom Harkin - 280,304 (1.39%)
- Lyndon LaRouche - 154,599 (0.77%)
- Eugene McCarthy - 108,678 (0.54%)
- Charles Woods - 88,948 (0.44%)
- Larry Agran - 58,611 (0.29%)
- Ross Perot (write-in) - 54,755 (0.27%)
- Ralph Nader (write-in) - 35,935 (0.18%)
- Louis J. Stokes - 29,983 (0.15%)