Eileen Donoghue, left, Jamie Eldridge, Barry Finegold, Jim Miceli and Niki Tsongas take questions from moderator Jay McQuaide during the first debate among 5th District Democrats at Devens Commons. They are running for the U.S. House seat left open when Marty Meehan resigned.

Andover State Rep. Barry Finegold stood before a group of supporters last Thursday night at Glory and laughed off the hurdles he's seen during the race to take Martin Meehan's vacated 5th Congressional district seat.

"This is my life ... all these people challenging me," Finegold said to a few hoots. "When I ran for selectman, I had five people supporting me, and I'm counting my parents as two."

Finegold, 36, became an Andover selectman at age 24 and a state representative at 25. He is running with the slogan "Wake up Washington."

But with a Sept. 4 primary | that's the day after Labor Day | Finegold and his fellow candidates will need to wake up voters, many of whom can lose track of a summer election.

Finegold will square off against four other Democrats. Two Republicans and an Independent are also running.

Here's a synopsis of what's happened so far:

Early March | With speculation that Congressman Martin Meehan would take a chancellor job at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, at least a dozen possible candidates come out of the woodwork waiting his decision.

People throw out names like Methuen state Sen. Steven Baddour, Andover state Sen. Susan Tucker, or Lawrence Mayor Michael Sullivan as possible contenders.

Baddour and Tucker, along with Middlesex County Sheriff James DiPaola, all announce they will not run.

Six Democrats come out as official contenders | Finegold; former Congressman Paul Tsongas' widow Niki Tsongas, Acton state Rep. Jamie Eldridge; activist David O'Brien of Concord; Lowell City Councilor Eileen Donoghue and Wilmington state Rep. James Miceli.

March 13 | Congressman Martin Meehan says he will step down from Congress in July to become the chancellor of UMass Lowell, his alma mater.

March 18 | Barry Finegold wins an unofficial straw poll at a North Andover Democratic town breakfast. Niki Tsongas is not far behind.

March 31 | Eileen Donoghue builds up her war chest to more than $400,000 in the first three months, but $325,000 of it is her own money. Niki Tsongas raises $339,000 and Barry Finegold rings in with $306,255. Jamie Eldridge picked up about $108,000, while James Miceli raised $10,700.

April 11 | Congressman Martin Meehan's wife, Ellen, becomes the campaign chairwoman for Niki Tsongas. Martin Meehan said many times that he would not get involved in the race to replace him, and contends that he had nothing to do with the move.

April 19 | Barry Finegold challenges his opponents to 29 debates | one in each of the cities and towns of the 5th district.

April 21 | Niki Tsongas easily tops the five other Democrats in a straw poll held by the Methuen Democratic Committee. Eileen Donoghue comes in second, Finegold third.

April 26 | Dracut Republican James Ogonowski announces his candidacy. The 28-year veteran of the Air Force, whose brother was killed aboard a hijacked plane on Sept. 11, 2001, is the first Republican to enter the race. His main theme: preparedness.

A couple of days later, another Republican, Lawrence Mayor Michael Sullivan, says he will not run.

April 27 | Concord resident David O'Brien drops out.

May 8 | Barry Finegold says if elected to Congress he will ask Americans to spend $100 billion on forcing the federal government to go green. He wants to power all federal buildings and cars with alternative energy sources.

May 9 | Congressman Martin Meehan submits his resignation letter, effective in July. Gov. Deval Patrick sets the primary election for Sept. 4, the day after Labor Day. Campaigners worry that residents will still be on vacation, leading to a low-voter turnout.

May 10 | Methuen state Sen. Steven Baddour passes over local candidate Barry Finegold, instead endorsing Eileen Donoghue.

May 12 | Finegold takes a Haverhill Democratic City Committee straw poll. Despite support from state Sen. Steven Baddour, who represents Haverhill, Donoghue comes in third.

May 24 | Democratic candidates hold their first official debate in a Chelmsford police station. All candidates say the Iraq war needs to end.

Jamie Eldridge and Niki Tsongas call for troops to be withdrawn starting in 90 days and out within 270 days. Barry Finegold wants to end the war, after dividing Iraq into three areas. James Miceli said generals, not politicians, should decide when to withdraw troops. Eileen Donoghue calls for a quick end to the fighting.

Late May | Republican James Ogonowski gets a challenger. Republican Thomas P. Tierney, who ran unsuccessfully against Congressman Martin Meehan in 2004, is giving it another shot | his fifth | for this seat.

June 1 | Lowell resident Patrick O. Murphy enters the race as an Independent. Murphy is a Phillips Academy alum who says he will not accept any campaign donations.

June 25 | Niki Tsongas supports an attack by a national fund-raising group on Barry Finegold.

Tsongas said she signed off on the EMILY's List fund-raising e-mail that questioned whether Finegold could be trusted to support a woman's right to choose.

On two occasions, Finegold had cosponsored state legislation that pro-choice groups said would restrict a woman's access to an abortion. He insists he did so mistakenly and stressed he supports abortion rights.

June 30 | Niki Tsongas raised another $650,000, bringing her total to over $1 million. Finegold has raised about $700,000 by now. Jamie Eldridge said he's raised about $275,000.

July 18 | Forget the backyard advantage. Barry Finegold's fellow legislators from Andover choose to endorse Niki Tsongas, holding a press conference at a downtown Andover diner.

State Rep. Barbara L'Italien and state Sen. Susan Tucker say that while they like Finegold, they think Tsongas can win the general election. North Andover state Rep. David Torissi also endorses Tsongas.

Finegold says election will not be won or lost on endorsements.

July 25 | Someone leaks a 13-second video onto the Web site YouTube, where Niki Tsongas says she represented the 5th Congressional district in Washington for 10 years while at a Lowell debate the week before. Her camp calls it a mere slip of the tongue.

Eileen Donoghue's team goes on the attack.

"Niki Tsongas has never been elected to represent anyone, ever, anywhere," said Scott Ferson, spokesman to Donoghue. "Her campaign wants people to believe she's an incumbent, unfortunately the only person they have convinced is her."

Finegold said he will not attack Tsongas.

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