Incumbents, Fresh Faces Facing Off In Massachusetts Primary

Voters in line outside East Boston High School. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Voters in line outside East Boston High School. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Voters in Massachusetts are choosing between incumbents and fresh faces in Tuesday's primary, where several members of the state's all-Democratic U.S. House delegation face spirited challenges.

The ballot also features races for governor and a Republican contest for the U.S. Senate.

Perhaps the most closely watched contest pits longtime incumbent U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano against Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley in the state's only congressional district where minorities comprise a majority of the population.

The challenge from Pressley, the first black woman to serve on the city council, has drawn some comparisons to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who stunningly defeated 10-term New York Rep. Joe Crowley in a Democratic primary in June. Both races highlight rifts within the Democratic party, with many younger voters embracing new and more diverse political leadership.

Capuano is considered one of the most liberal members of the Massachusetts delegation, and Pressley has acknowledged she has few major policy quarrels with the incumbent. If elected, she'd be the first black woman Massachusetts has sent to Congress.

"We will vote the same way, but I will lead differently," Pressley said during a recent debate.

Capuano, first elected to the House in 1998, is fighting hard to keep his seat.

"My record is pretty clear. I'm one of the most progressive members of Congress and have been since I got here," he said in a recent interview. "I think I've effectively represented every constituent group in this district."

Another veteran congressman, Rep. Richard Neal, also faces a spirited primary challenge from Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, a black attorney from Springfield who if elected would be the first Muslim to serve in Congress from Massachusetts. Neal, the dean of the state's House delegation, first was elected in 1989.

Three other Democratic incumbents — Reps. Stephen Lynch, William Keating and Joe Kennedy — also face primary opponents Tuesday. That's a stark difference from just two years ago, when not a single Democratic incumbent was challenged in the primaries.

Another Democrat, U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, is retiring at the end of this term and the open seat has touched off a political scramble with 10 candidates on the Democratic primary ballot.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, a moderate who has been popular with voters in what is perceived as one of the nation's bluest states, faces a primary challenge from Scott Lively, a conservative minister from Springfield.

Lively, who has little money or staff, calls Baker a "RINO" (Republican in Name Only) and declares he is "100 percent" behind President Donald Trump.

Baker says he did not vote for Trump in the 2016 presidential election and has frequently criticized White House policies. The governor has said his challenger's anti-LGBT views "have no place in public discourse, or any discourse."

A pair of lesser-known Democrats, Jay Gonzalez and Robert Massie, are battling in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. Both contend that Baker's support among voters is soft and that his administration has failed to make significant strides in many areas, particularly the problems plaguing the Boston-area transit system known as the "T."

Democratic U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is unopposed in the Democratic primary, but three Republicans are competing for the nod to face her in November: state Rep. Geoff Diehl, who was the co-chair of Trump's Massachusetts campaign; John Kingston, a businessman who once tried to fund a third-party challenge to Trump but has become more supportive of the president; and Beth Lindstrom, who served in former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney's administration.

With the primary falling on the day after Labor Day, just as many voters return from summer vacations and the new school year is starting, turnout is expected to be modest. Democratic Secretary of State William Galvin said he had little choice because other possible primary dates conflicted with religious holidays or posed other obstacles.

Galvin himself faces a primary challenge Tuesday from Boston City Councilor Josh Zakim.



More from WBUR

Listen Live