Insurgent challenger will be state’s first black female member of Congress
In the latest upset during the 2018 Democratic primaries, Ayanna Pressley beat a veteran 10-term Democrat in Massachusetts in a House race being watched nationally as an indicator of the future of the Democratic Party.
With Michael Capuano conceding and no Republican opponent on the ballot in November, Pressley will be become the first African American woman to represent Massachusetts on Capitol Hill.
The night also marked another victory for insurgent candidates within the Democratic Party, who are demanding a more strident political posture in the era of Trump.
In her victory speech, Pressley said: “These times demanded more from our leaders and from our party. These times demanded an approach to governing that was bold, uncompromising and unafraid. It’s not just good enough to see the Democrats back in power but it matters who those Democrats are.”
Her win adds her to the growing number of female and minority candidates who have been propelled to victory in primaries by the Democratic base, joining candidates like Andrew Gillum, the Democratic nominee for Florida Governor as well as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Although Pressley gained renewed national attention in the wake of Ocasio-Cortez’s shock win against longtime incumbent Joe Crowley in New York City in June, she is a far more orthodox figure.
Long heralded as a rising star in the Democratic Party, Pressley was first elected to the Boston City Council in 2009. The former staffer for Senator John Kerry and Congressman Joe Kennedy has been touted by national progressive groups for years. A former Clinton surrogate, Pressley was awarded a rising star award by the Democratic activist group Emily’s List in 2015.
Pressley, a Boston city councilor, and Capuano were both ardent progressives with a few differences. Pressley supported the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice); Capuano did not. Capuano favored a federal jobs guarantee; Pressley did not. Instead, the race focused on style.
Pressley argued that while Capuano was a consistent progressive vote in Congress, she would provide “activist leadership.” In contrast, Capuano pointed to his longstanding relationships in Congress and ability to bring home federal money to the district.
Pressley benefited from the changing demographics of her district, which spans much of Boston as well as a mix of blue collar and well-educated suburbs. It is the only majority minority district in Massachusetts. Her campaign focused on turning those voters, particularly African Americans, who were less likely to cast ballots in a Democratic primary.
Pressley thought was also helped by some cracks in establishment support for Capuano. Both of the state’s Democratic senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren did not endorse in the race and state attorney general Maura Healey endorsed Pressley. In addition, she was endorsed by the Boston Globe.
However, Capuano still had strong support from organized labor, Boston mayor Marty Walsh as well as the Congressional Black Caucus’s political action committee.
In remarks where he conceded even before the race had been called by the Associated Press, Capuano seemed to take his defeat in stride. “Clearly the district wanted a lot of change,” said the incumbent. “Apparently the district was just very upset with lots of things going on. I can tell you I have been just as upset as they are. But so be it, that’s the way life goes.”
During her victory speech, Pressley dug into President Donald Trump – and his predecessors: “While our president is a racist, misogynistic, truly empathy bankrupt man, the conditions which have made the 7th district one of the of most unequal in America was cemented through policies long before he ever descended the escalator at Trump Tower.”
Pressley spoke of Capuano, saying he “forced me to bring my best,” and thanked him for his “20 years of service.”
Stephanie Voltaire, 29, excitedly jumped through the crowd to glimpse a sight of Pressley. Voltaire cited her candidate’s work to save Temporary Protected Status for immigrants as a major factor of her support. “I’m ready for her to fight for immigrants.”
Damali Vidot, who is city council president in nearby Chelsea and volunteered for Pressley’s campaign, said that Pressley’s win opens up a conversation of who the Democratic Party represents.
“Many communities feel unseen,” she said. “This gives us the opportunity to see how inclusive the party can be.”
Shortly after the win, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted her support: “Let’s push together to make Medicare for All, tuition free college, & living wages a reality in America – all without corporate PAC money.”