Wednesday is the last day to register to vote in Massachusetts in the primaries on Sept. 4, and candidates are making a last push to get out the vote.
The Battle For The 7th
During a rainy rush hour at the exit of Maverick Station in East Boston Tuesday, organizers for Ayanna Pressley hand out baked goods and plastic ponchos to potential supporters.
By vote tallies, Pressley is one of Boston’s most popular city councilors.
Now, in a 7th Congressional District race that's getting national attention, she wants to take to Washington her vision of greater equality in the district, which is one of the most diverse in the state.
“This is arguably, if not the most, progressive seat in our country, and that means we should be leading, we should be innovating, we should be bold, we should be legislating, and I want to do that work with you," she says to cheers from supporters.
Pressley is challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano, who has been a congressman since 1999. Pressley and Capuano are both left-leaning Democrats, and they agree on many issues.
So they're highlighting the things that separate them. Capuano says he has the depth of experience that proves he can represent all his constituents. Pressley points out that inequality remains despite his years in office.
Attorney and community advocate Matthew Barison says Pressley's presence in his East Boston neighborhood sets her apart from her rival.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen Mike in East Boston. I just don’t think he has the presence here that many other politicians have," Barison says. "I don’t doubt that his votes are generally on target for a liberal voter such as myself, but we need someone who is here. So I think being on the City Council, Councilor Pressley is well aware of the retail, the local level of politics.”
(Editor's Note: After this story was published, the Capuano campaign pointed to events the congressman held recently in East Boston, including one with the Jeffries Point Neighborhood Association on Monday night.)
Pressley might have street cred among some Boston voters. But the district goes beyond the city. It includes parts of Boston, Cambridge and Milton, as well as all of Chelsea, Everett, Randolph and Somerville, where Capuano was once mayor.
Pressley leads among people of color and younger voters, who experts say she needs to turn out to pull off an upset.
"The goal is to do what I’ve always done, is to not make assumptions about communities, to meet people where they’re at," she says, "to go to rooms where many elected officials don’t go — church basements, bodegas, beauty salons and barbershops — to engage and to build community and to learn from people. And it’s been working.”
Still, Capuano's incumbency gives him a major edge in the race for a seat he’s held for two decades.
At the Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly facility in Brighton, Capuano works a mostly Chinese crowd with a tune.
His message — translated into Mandarin, Cantonese and Russian — is decidedly anti-Trump:
“President Trump has made it harder for everybody in the world to bring their families to America to join them. ... There must be something I agree with him on, but I honestly can’t think of it," he says.
One supporter of Capuano is Jean Rubinson, who lives in the housing facility. She says she trusts him to take on the president.
"I am not familiar with who is going to oppose him, but he’s such a good man that I can’t imagine his not getting in," she says. "For one thing, he told the truth about what’s going on with the federal government and that resonates with me more than anything else."
A recent WBUR poll of likely Democratic voters in the district has Capuano ahead of Pressley by 13 points.
But he's not taking that lead for granted. He's facing a serious challenger for the first time in his career as a member of the U.S. House. He's even canceling family vacations to do more campaign events.
"I had a long time — a little bit less so now — I had a long time when I was pooh-poohed by my friends, not by my opponents: ‘Oh, don’t worry, Mike, you’re going to be fine. Who would dare run against you? Why would anybody even consider not voting for you?' ... I think most people now recognize this is a serious campaign," he says. "I’ve known it from the start. Which is good — they need to be energized, they need to be focused."
The Massachusetts 7th Democratic primary is drawing national attention — with comparisons being made to a recent stunning upset in New York in which Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old Latina woman, ousted Joe Crowley, the 56-year-old white male incumbent.
Stonehill College political scientist Peter Ubertaccio says the incumbent there was viewed as out of touch. He says the same cannot be said for Capuano.
So what does he think it will take for Pressley to beat the odds and win the primary?
"It’s going to have to take extraordinary turnout," he says. "Capuano has worked his district hard. He’s present, he is well-known — he’s obviously going to be well-funded. Now, some of his supporters will gravitate toward Pressley, and that’s to be expected. But in order for her numbers to match his, and to overcome, she’s going to have to turn out a lot of new voters.”
Ubertaccio says Pressley is well-positioned to do that, but he also says Capuano is likely to hold onto his seat.
Either way, the Massachusetts 7th will have a progressive voice in Congress.
Dorchester Reporter News Editor Jennifer Smith contributed to this story. WBUR and the Reporter have a partnership in which the organizations share resources to collaborate on stories. WBUR’s Simón Rios is currently working from the Reporter newsroom.
This article was originally published on August 15, 2018.
This segment aired on August 15, 2018.