Democratic incumbents feeling the heat in Massachusetts primary

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Democratic incumbents feeling the heat in Massachusetts primary

Voters head to the polls Tuesday in one of the last major primaries of the 2018 midterms, with several incumbent House Democrats in Massachusetts facing primary challengers for the first time in recent years.

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In Massachusetts’s 7th Congressional District, Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley is hoping to unseat longtime progressive Rep. Mike Capuano in a district that includes parts of Boston and neighboring Somerville and Cambridge.

Pressley, 44, who served as an aide to former Sen. John Kerry and former Rep. Joe Kennedy II, is making the case for a new generation of liberal leadership in Washington, and to take a more activist approach in taking on President Donald Trump.

“If we can’t be bold of visionary or leading from this seat, there’s no other seat in the country that has these progressive bona fides and the opportunity to be unrestrained and unencumbered,” she said at a recent event.

PHOTO: Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Mass., shakes hands with supporters after a debate against primary challenger Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley at the University of Massachusetts, in Boston, Aug. 7, 2018.Charles Krupa/AP
Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Mass., shakes hands with supporters after a debate against primary challenger Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley at the University of Massachusetts, in Boston, Aug. 7, 2018.

Capuano, 66, a former mayor of Somerville who opposed the Iraq War and championed progressive causes for years, is hoping that voters take a look at his record and the results for his district. If Democrats take back the House, he could potentially be in line for a subcommittee gavel on the House Transportation Committee.

“When I go to vote, I want the best fighter I can get on the issues I care about. If I find two or three or ten candidates who do, then I look for the person who can actually deliver on the words,” he said at a recent event with canvassers.

Capuano has helped bring millions of dollars to his district for public transportation, housing and community health centers. He’s promising to challenge the administration on immigration and gun control, among other issues, if he’s sent back to Washington.

“Words are easy, every politician has them, and that’s fine, and I think in this case it’s easy to prove. Who has delivered, not just who will deliver,” he said.

Gina Richard and Dave Sargeant of Roslindale said they plan to stick with Capuano, but praised Pressley’s record.

“He’s been a real champion for democratic values, and I don’t want to replace what’s working,” Sargeant, 34, said. “If she was running in a different race, I would consider voting for her but she’s up against a real competitor.”

The winner of the primary in the majority-minority district – the only of its kind in Massachusetts – is expected to win in November because Republicans have not seriously challenged Democrats in the district for decades.

“In many cases, these races are decided on factors that are not policy positions, like the personal histories and trajectories of the candidates,” Costas Panagopoulos, a political science professor at Northeastern University, said in an interview with ABC News. “Their demographics can play a role.”

Some observers have seen parallels between the Boston-area race and the victory earlier this summer by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a former Sen. Bernie Sanders organizer, over 10-term incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley in New York.

But Capuano, who still lives in his district, is popular with constituent and has focused extensively on campaigning for re-election. He even canceled a vacation to campaign once Pressley entered the primary.

Both candidates have said they are also likely to vote along similar lines in Congress if elected, offering voters less of a contrast on major policy positions.

Pressley has taken a more progressive stance on immigration, vowing to abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and oppose funding for a border wall, while Capuano has said he would support funding a wall in exchange for larger immigration reforms sought by Democrats.

Pressley, who has also pledged not to accept money from corporate political action committees, also criticized Capuano’s comments in a recent debate about NFL players’ protests during the national anthem, when he said he “100 percent’ agreed with former quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s message but said his actions were counterproductive.

In other parts of the state, Democrats are facing spirited primary challenges and vying to replace one outgoing member of Congress in a crowded primary.

Rep. Richard Neal is facing a challenge from attorney Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, and Reps. Stephen Lynch and Joe Kennedy III are also fending off primary challenges.

Ten Democrats are vying to replace retiring Rep. Nicki Tsongas in the state’s third congressional district.

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