Pressley Challenge To Capuano Takes Heart From New York Upset04:44

U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano and his Democratic challenger, Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley (Robin Lubbock, Jesse Costa/WBUR)
U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano and his Democratic challenger, Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley (Robin Lubbock, Jesse Costa/WBUR)
This article is more than 3 years old.

The upset primary victory in New York of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over one of the most powerful Democrats in Congress is raising the question of whether Ayanna Pressley can do the same thing in Boston.

Pressley is challenging longtime Democratic U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano.

Both challengers are women of color. Ocasio-Cortez is Latina. Pressley is African-American.

Both are pledging to eliminate U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency in charge of deporting people in the country unlawfully.

Both happen to be graduates of Boston University.

Pressley said on Radio Boston Wednesday that she's inspired by Ocasio-Cortez.

"She has been fearless and fierce in her convictions, and she has challenged and disrupted every conventional narrative about who has a right to run and who can win," said Pressley.

Both districts are majority nonwhite.

The New York 14th district spans portions of two New York City boroughs: Queens and the Bronx. The Massachusetts 7th Congressional District spans portions of Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Everett and Chelsea.

Both districts contain large numbers of immigrants. Immigrants make up 46 percent of the New York district and 32 percent of the Massachusetts 7th.

Both candidates argue their experiences make them better able to represent their diverse districts.

In New York, Ocasio-Cortez was able to defeat incumbent Congressman Joseph Crowley even though she raised far less money than he.


"Ayanna Pressley got very lucky with the win by Ocasio-Cortez [Tuesday] night because it turned national attention towards her as well, and the question for Ayanna now is: Can she capitalize upon it?" said Democratic political consultant Mary Anne Marsh on Radio Boston. "Can she take advantage of it? Can she turn this attention into more money, more endorsements and more of an organization?"

Yes, says Pressley's senior campaign adviser. Wilnelia Rivera said Pressley can accomplish the same thing here by focusing on getting out the vote.

"And that's why, for instance, when we decided to send an organizer to the Ocasio race for their GOTV efforts, it wasn't just to support what they needed immediately in terms of their goals for the campaign, it was also to provide a leadership development opportunity for one of the young organizers who's never experienced a GOTV campaign of this nature," said Rivera. "And it was also to set up a process for us to recruit some of our GOTV volunteers that we know we're going to need in about 69 more days."

The master of grassroots campaigning in Massachusetts is John Walsh. He ran Deval Patrick's campaigns for governor and the Democratic campaign that got Elizabeth Warren elected to the Senate. He's volunteering for Pressley in this race.

"They're raising enough money to execute the kind of grassroots campaign," Walsh said. "They had a campaign office opening last week over in Jamaica Plain that was jam-packed and people were going out knocking on doors right then and other people like me who had some other commitment, we were signing up for this coming weekend. That kind of focus of asking people to go talk to their neighbors face to face -- that does not require millions of dollars."

There are some differences between the two races. Democratic political consultant Scott Ferson doesn't believe that there is the same anti-incumbent fervor here to favor Pressley that there was in New York.

"Her odds are better than most challengers, because it is a majority-minority district, and she is a woman, and it's a year where that's really important, but I don't think there's that same kind of Bernie Sanders anger throughout the district that we saw in the district in New York," Ferson said.

Another difference: The incumbent in New York seemed to take his re-election for granted. Capuano has shown himself to be a fierce campaigner and is not taking this election for granted.

Last weekend, he was in the same place as Ocasio-Cortez: on the border, investigating the U.S. government separation of migrant children from their parents.

"There are a lot of people, including me, that wonder whether they even know where children and parents are," he said on the trip. "I would like to think they do, but I won't sit here today and tell you I'm 100 percent confident. I'm not."

Capuano's campaign did not make him or anyone else on the campaign available for an interview Wednesday.

It won't take a surge of voters to win this election. Turnout in the New York district was only 28,000 votes.

This segment aired on June 27, 2018.


Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.