A Stunner: Ayanna Pressley Topples Michael Capuano In Nationally Watched 7th District Race

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Ayanna Pressley addresses supporters celebrating her primary win. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
(Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

There is a changing of the guard in the 7th Congressional District, with shockwaves sure to reverberate throughout the Democratic Party.

Ayanna Pressley, the first woman of color elected to the Boston City Council and a self-described candidate of change, easily toppled U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano, a 10-term incumbent, in an intra-party tussle that garnered national attention on Tuesday.

With no Republican opponent, Pressley is set to become the first black woman to represent Massachusetts in Congress.

Pressley campaigned on the slogan "change can't wait," casting herself as a movement-building candidate. The daughter of a single mother and a father who was in and out of prison, she said she could better represent the state's only majority-minority district, which includes most of Boston and several of its surrounding communities.

"It seems like change is on the way," Pressley said in her celebratory speech.

"We committed to running a campaign for those who don't see themselves reflected in politics and government, and are forever told their issues, their concerns, their priorities, can wait," she told the crowd.

Those issues, she said, include gun violence, racism, domestic abuse and the wide economic disparity in the 7th district.

Pressley supporters react to Capuano's concession speech. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Pressley supporters react to Capuano's concession speech. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Pressley's victory — as a younger woman of color — echoes the upset win, earlier this year in New York City, of political newcomer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who also ousted a longtime congressional incumbent.

After Ocasio-Cortez's victory, national focus turned to Greater Boston, with questions about whether Pressley could repeat the script against Capuano.

Pressley's win is part of a record surge of women and candidates of color across the country challenging established Democrats, including Ocasio-Cortez but also Andrew Gillum of Florida.

In his brief concession speech, Capuano acknowledged that voters had turned their backs on the Democratic establishment that had backed him.

"Clearly, the district wanted a lot of change," he said. "[State Rep.] Jeff Sanchez lost tonight. [State Rep.] Byron Rushing lost tonight. And apparently the district is just upset with a lot of things. I don't blame them. I'm just as upset as they are."

Then, he tipped his hat to the woman who beat him.

"America is going to be OK," he said. "Ayanna Pressley is going to be a good congresswoman. And I will tell you that Massachusetts will be well served."

Capuano concedes to Pressley, as his wife Barbara listens at left. (Elise Amendola/AP)
Capuano concedes to Pressley, as his wife Barbara listens at left. (Elise Amendola/AP)

With that, Capuano thanked his disappointed supporters and invited them all for a drink in the Caribbean, where he is apparently heading next.

Capuano's defeat means Massachusetts loses a senior member of the U.S. House who would have had substantial clout should Democrats win in November.

But Pressley's victory was as decisive as it was surprising. She shunned corporate PAC money and ran a grassroots campaign that targeted younger voters and voters of color — and beat Capuano by about 17 points, dominating him in the city of Boston, her stronghold.

She pledged to bring her campaign of change to Washington.

"Both my fellow Democrats who stand with us, and the Republicans who stand in our way — and to everyone in the 7th Congressional District, change is coming! And the future belongs to all of us!" she said.

Throughout their spirited but congenial campaign, both Capuano, 66, and Pressley, 44, touted their progressive credentials and policy stances, and admitted they would vote similarly on most issues before the U.S. House.

So the dividing lines shifted to identity issues and experience. Capuano, a white man, stressed his record and ability to deliver for the urban district, while Pressley said she'd be a transformative leader.

One longtime community activist in Boston, the Rev. Jeff Brown, spoke to the race's significance, saying it is "about the soul of the Democratic Party."

The diverse 7th district includes most of Boston, parts of Cambridge and Milton, and all of Chelsea, Everett, Randolph and Somerville.

It is the state's lone congressional district in which most residents are minority — though typically most of its voters have been white.

A WBUR poll in early August found Capuano, a former Somerville mayor, leading by 13 points. He was buoyed by an advantage in campaign funds and a number of endorsements, including from Deval Patrick, the state's first African-American governor.

Pressley was backed by state Attorney General Maura Healey, and notably received endorsements from both the Boston Globe and Boston Herald editorial boards.

In the end, Pressley came out on top.

This article was originally published on September 04, 2018.

This segment aired on September 5, 2018.


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Anthony Brooks Senior Political Reporter
Anthony Brooks is WBUR's senior political reporter.


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Benjamin Swasey Digital Manager
Ben is WBUR's digital news manager.



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