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Jeff Turco Voted For Trump And Mocked Warren. Then He Won A Democratic Primary In Mass.05:06
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Jeff Turco. (YouTube screenshot)
Jeff Turco. (YouTube screenshot)

He voted for Donald Trump, suggested that Barack Obama is mentally ill, and ridiculed Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton.

But Jeff Turco is the favorite to win a special election in liberal Massachusetts for state representative — as a Democrat.

Turco won the Democratic Primary last week to succeed former House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who had represented the heavily Democratic district, which includes Winthrop and part of Revere, for the past 30 years.

"I'm thrilled with the result, obviously," Turco told Revere TV, following his primary victory last Tuesday. "I'm thrilled with the level of support I received across the district."

Turco's victory moves him a big step closer to succeeding DeLeo and represents a stunning loss for progressives.

Turco won 36 percent of the vote - just enough to edge out two progressives: Alicia Del Vento from Winthrop, who worked for Democrats on Beacon Hill, and Juan Jaramillo, a community organizer from Revere.

Together, the two progressives won more than 56 percent  — but because they split the vote, Turco beat them out for the Democratic nomination. Jaramillo, who finished less than 300 votes behind Turco, says the voters lost.

"The voters of this district voted overwhelmingly for something else," Jaramillo told WBUR. "For policies that uplift immigrant communities, working class people, the LGBTQ-plus community; that uplift women. That's what the voters here voted for."

Instead, they got Jeff Turco, who is expected to easily beat Republican Paul Caruccio and independent Richard Fucillo in the special election later this month in the reliably Democratic district.

During his campaign, Turco, 49, a lawyer and a former Winthrop town Councilor, ran as a moderate. He talked about housing and education, as well as two issues that affected his own family: substance abuse and mental illness. Turco did not talk about his support of Donald Trump, for whom he voted in 2016 and has continued to support since. Nor did he talk about his Facebook page, which was full of posts that alarmed liberal activists.

"There's nothing moderate about him," said Rebecca Hart Holder, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, the abortion rights group. "He's an anti-choice, Trump supporter. He shares offensive, far-right rhetoric on his Facebook page."

Turco says he's personally opposed to abortion but that he accepts abortion rights as settled law. But Holder says there are big question about where Turco stands on abortion and other issues. NARAL captured dozens of posts from Turco's Facebook page — before they were removed. One post referred to Barack Obama as "our mentally challenged President." Another suggested Warren and Clinton are those "creepy girls in the Shining."

"Jeff Turco scrubbed his social media feed for a reason," Holder said. "He scrubbed it because the things that he was posting were out of step with the things that Democratic voters believed."

Meanwhile, campaign finance records show that Turco and his wife donated to at least two Republicans, Senators Susan Collins and Lindsey Graham, as well as a pro-Trump super PAC last year.

WBUR tried multiple times to reach Turco, but he never called back.

During the final candidate forum before the primary, Turco described himself as a "proud moderate Democrat."

"I consider myself a John F. Kennedy Democrat," he said. "A working class Democrat. I think some of the people in this campaign choose to go for the socialist platform. That's not who Jeff Turco is and I don't think it's who the people in this district are."

In fact, thanks in part to a growing immigrant population, the 19th Suffolk district is increasingly progressive, which helped deliver it to Bernie Sanders in last year's Democratic presidential primary.

"That's the general lean of this district," said Jaramillo, who narrowly lost to Turco. "Revere as a whole also voted for Bernie Sanders."

This isn’t the first time progressives have split the vote in a Democratic primary and lost out to someone more conservative in Massachusetts. Jesse Mermell lost a crowded primary race last year for the 4th Congressional District, which Jake Auchincloss, a former Republican, won. Mermell says the good news for progressives is that more candidates are running for office. "And that's a great thing for the movement at large," she said.

But that also mean progressives can end up running against each other. So Mermell argues that progressives need to rally around one candidate "to make sure that we don't wind up with what we just saw happen in Revere and Winthrop." That's where most voters opted for a younger, progressive nominee — but ended up with Turco, who is now well on his way to Beacon Hill.

This segment aired on March 11, 2021.

Related:

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

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