All right, so the Dionne column might not have been the best evidence available, but Ogonowski’s opposition to illegal immigration and amnesty clearly helped his campaign rather than weakened it.  Cilizza writes:

He [Ogonowski] also found fertile ground by calling for a crackdown on illegal immigration and decrying Tsongas’ support for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants as amnesty.

With that campaign strategy, Ogonowski may have provided Republicans a blueprint to follow in contested races next year. Congressional approval numbers are mired in the mid 20s while disapproval crests 60 percent in most recent national surveys. And, immigration is an issue that seems to cut across party lines with a call for the law to be enforced a potent political position.

Ogonowski had all sorts of liabilities–relatively little funding, low name recognition, competing in an adverse political climate–but his position on immigration wasn’t one of them.  The problem with Ogonowski’s S-CHIP position was that he effectively supported Bush’s veto of the legislation, which allowed him to be tarred as a Bush follower.  His explanation of his opposition to the bill in terms of immigration policy may well have been misleading and lame, but if he miscalculated politically here it was not in taking an anti-immigration position but in being opposed to a health care bill.

As a local news source also related:

Midway through the race he latched onto an issue – immigration reform – of great local interest [bold mine-DL] that also showed he is not in lockstep with national Republicans unpopular in Massachusetts.

“He tapped into one issue that is where the national party went astray,” Tarr said. “Immigration is a real issue. But rather than say he was in favor of amnesty, he said people have to play by the rules. And that clearly gave him a lot of appeal to voters in the Merrimack Valley.”