The Democratic Senate race between incumbent Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Joe Kennedy has been a heated one, with the winner all but certain to get elected in November. But that race is just one of multiple competitive Massachusetts primaries this year.
In four of the state’s nine House primaries, there are Democratic challengers vying to unseat the current incumbent or seize an open seat. In Massachusetts’s First District, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse is challenging incumbent House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal from the left. And in the Fourth District, a packed field of candidates including former prosecutor Becky Grossman, community service organization City Year founder Alan Khazei, and Jesse Mermell, a former aide to Gov. Deval Patrick, is competing in an open primary for Kennedy’s current seat, with two candidates running in the Republican primary as well.
Kennedy, meanwhile, hopes to take Markey’s seat, by making the case that he offers generational change and would be a more effective advocate for constituents.
In 2018, Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley won her primary challenge against Rep. Mike Capuano, becoming one of several progressives to go up against an incumbent that year — and succeed. As mail-in ballots continue to get counted this week, it will become clear whether more candidates in the state are able to manage similar victories this year.
Vox will have live results beginning this evening, powered by our partners at DecisionDesk. Because of the role of mail-in ballots in the race, however, it could be a while before the final results are known.
Democratic Senate primary: The Kennedy-Markey race pits a climate policy wonk against a scion of the country’s most famous political family
The state’s Democratic Senate primary has proven to be quite a competitive contest thus far.
According to the RealClearPolitics polling average, Markey was ahead by 11 points, on average, as of late August — though observers note that there have been a dearth of primary polls and the race could still be a close one.
Kennedy, a four-term lawmaker and scion to one of the country’s most well-known political families, announced his challenge last fall — and has argued he’d be a better advocate for constituents, and more focused on both racial and social justice than his opponent. Markey — a longtime lawmaker who’s served 18 terms in the House and seven years in the Senate — has leaned into his longstanding leadership on environmental policy, including cap and trade and the Green New Deal, which he cosponsored with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Kennedy’s challenge was surprising to many political observers since there isn’t an obvious ideological case for it: Both men are white, and identify as progressives, and Markey is seen as having strong policy bona fides given his work on both climate and tech.
During the campaign, Markey has emphasized his progressive record, established a bold digital presence, and garnered the backing of several progressive groups and leaders including Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Kennedy, meanwhile, is credited with being a leader on mental health policy and LGBTQ rights, and has picked up support from top House lawmakers including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries.
Because the two lawmakers are expected to take similar positions in Congress, their respective supporters see the differences coming down to other factors, including Markey’s willingness to take larger risks in promoting ambitious bills, and the potential for Kennedy to serve as a more prominent liberal leader in the Senate.
First District: Alex Morse is challenging Richard Neal from the left
Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse is hoping he can be the latest progressive to unseat a top House Democratic incumbent: Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal.
Morse’s campaign has focused on pushing more progressive policy proposals including Medicare-for-all, while arguing that Neal’s approach to governing and reform since he was elected to office in 1989 has been insufficient. Neal is currently a key member of House leadership, and he’s become a top progressive target for his reluctance to embrace more ambitious policies, as well as for his hesitation in going after President Donald Trump’s tax returns.
Earlier this summer, Morse faced allegations in a leaked letter from the College Democrats of University of Massachusetts Amherst that he had inappropriately leveraged his power as a guest lecturer at the university campus, while dating college students there.
He’s since apologized if his actions made anyone comfortable, said the relationships were consensual, and noted that none of the relationships involved students he taught. A report from the Intercept also revealed that some leaders of the College Democrats chapter had planned to use Morse’s personal communications with a leader after a panel discussion as a tactic to seed concern about Morse’s campaign.
The university’s own investigation is ongoing, while the current leadership of the College Democrats chapter has apologized for the “distress” the group’s allegations caused Morse as well as the way their letter played into “homophobic stereotypes” in describing those allegations against the mayor, who is gay.
Polling indicates Morse and Neal are potentially within single digits of one another going into the final leg of the race this week.
If Morse were to win, he’d be among a wave of progressives, including public school principal Jamaal Bowman and nurse and activist leader Cori Bush, who’ve built on the momentum of lawmakers such as Ocasio-Cortez, and taken out more moderate incumbents.
Four other races to watch
Republican Senate primary: Attorney Kevin O’Connor is running against scientist Shiva Ayyadurai
Two Republican candidates will also go up against one another for the Bay State’s Senate seat: Attorney Kevin O’Connor is taking on scientist Shiva Ayyadurai, who ran in 2018 as an independent against Warren as well.
O’Connor takes the Republican Party line on a number of issues including favoring tax reforms and opposing “socialized medicine” and the Green New Deal. Ayyadurai, meanwhile, has been a controversial candidate, who has criticized vaccines and previously called for the ouster of immunologist Anthony Fauci from the White House’s coronavirus task force.
Fourth District: A crowded field of candidates is duking it out for Kennedy’s current seat
Kennedy’s current seat, which stretches from the suburbs of Boston to the southern part of the state, is up for grabs in the wake of his Senate run, and there’s a packed field of candidates across the ideological spectrum trying to win the contest.
On the Democratic side, they include former prosecutor Becky Grossman, former Federal Reserve system regulator Ihssane Leckey, City Year founder Alan Khazei, epidemiologist Natalia Linos, former aide to Gov. Deval Patrick Jesse Mermell, attorney Ben Sigel and Newton city councillor Jake Auchincloss. Both Leckey and Mermell are among those who hew to the more progressive side, while Grossman and Auchincloss (a former Republican) are among those who are more moderate.
They’ve also split a wide-ranging set of endorsements: Leckey is backed by Rep. Ilhan Omar and progressive group Brand New Congress; Khazei has the support of former Obama administration national security adviser Susan Rice; Grossman is backed by former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro; Mermell is endorsed by Rep. Ayanna Pressley; and Auchincloss has gotten an endorsement from the Boston Globe’s editorial board.
Because of how contested the seat is, the primary has become one of the most expensive in the state of Massachusetts, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Air Force veterans Julie Hall and David Rosa are both competing in the Republican primary as well; the district is expected to remain in Democratic hands this fall.
Sixth District: Moulton goes up against two primary challengers
Rep. Seth Moulton — one of an enormous field of Democratic primary presidential candidates — is now facing two primary challengers: educator and economic developer Angus McQuilken and maternal health advocate Jamie Zahlaway Belsito.
Both identify as progressives and have questioned Moulton’s commitment to the district: McQuilken has also focused on gun control policies and Zahlaway Belsito has prioritized policies that address gender equity and maternal mortality rates.
Moulton, a Marine Corps veteran, was first elected in 2014, and is a more moderate member of the Democratic caucus.
Eighth District: Goldstein is making a progressive challenge against Lynch
The Eighth District, located in the eastern part of the state, is also the site of a progressive challenge — Massachusetts General Hospital infectious disease doctor Robbie Goldstein is up against incumbent Rep. Stephen Lynch.
Lynch has been in the House for nine terms and has deep roots with organized labor. He has been one of the state’s most conservative representatives, according to the Intercept. Goldstein is pushing more aggressive structural change — including Medicare-for-all — in what’s historically been a more moderate district in the state.
Help keep Vox free for all
Millions turn to Vox each month to understand what’s happening in the news, from the coronavirus crisis to a racial reckoning to what is, quite possibly, the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work, and helping everyone make sense of an increasingly chaotic world. Contribute today from as little as $3.