Candidates Matter

Niki Tsongas, a Democrat, pulls off a narrow victory over Republican Jim Ogonowski in a heavily Democratic district. NRCC chair Tom Cole is crowing but Marc Ambinder's not so sure:

Well -- this isn't an elite liberal district, as anyone who ever worked for Marty Meehan can tell you. It is insular and provincial and distrusts outsiders; Tsongas lived outside the district before she ran. Though it has stayed in Democratic hands since the 70s, Tsongas still outperformed Gov. Deval Patrick here by two or three points; George H, W. Bush won this congressional district in 1992, as did Mitt Romney in 2002. [. . .] Cole's triumphalism is misplaced. At best -- and this is pretty good -- Ogonowski's run is a blueprint for Republican congressional candidates to run in 2008.

I think this mostly underlines the fact that candidates matter and our House elections aren't like party-list votes in a proportional system. In reality, voters should recognize that party affiliation is by far the most important attribute of a House candidate, but in practice they don't. An energetic candidate with a compelling biography, real local ties, and a veneer of independence from the national party can be competitive anywhere if pitted against someone who's unimpressive.