How progressives fared in the Massachusetts primary
The Bay State’s Democratic primary featured multiple elections that garnered national attention. In one of the last notable US elections before November, both moderates and progressives claimed major victories, left-wing insurgents fell short, and a jam-packed race in the Boston suburbs may have made way for a rightward shift.
In the night’s biggest contest, incumbent Sen. Ed Markey fended off a challenge from Rep. Joe Kennedy, marking the first time that a member of the Bay State political dynasty has lost a race for congress in Massachusetts.
After Kennedy launched his challenge last September, the Markey campaign quickly tacked to the left, bolstered by endorsements from national progressive leaders and organizations.
“In this race, justice was on the ballot,” Markey said in his victory speech. “And justice is at the heart of the agenda that we need to pass in 2021.”
Markey’s victory was buoyed by strong performance in the greater Boston area, comfortably winning the city and running up huge numbers in places like Cambridge and Somerville. Kennedy drew his strongest support in the state’s more conservative spots. The less-liberal Hampden, Worcester, Bristol, and Plymouth counties all went for the congressman, but not strong enough. Narrow wins in cities like Worcester, Lowell, and Fall River weren’t enough to erase Markey’s sweeping margins in Boston and Western Mass.
“Obviously these results were not the ones we were hoping for,” Kennedy said. “We built a campaign for the people that our politics often locks out and leaves behind… That is who we fought for, and they showed up today in droves.”
Out west, moderates warded off a progressive challenge in the 1st Congressional District, with Rep. Richard Neal stymieing an insurgent bid from Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse. Morse was the victim of a highly organized smear campaign just a month before the primary. The University of Massachusetts Amherst College Democrats had sent a letter disinviting Morse to any of the group’s future events to the school’s student newspaper, alleging that Morse had used the events to inappropriately pursue relationships with students. It was later revealed that Morse had attended just one meeting and that the political hit had been in the works for nearly a year. No specific claims were ever made against Morse. Just days before the primary, UMass Amherst Democrats apologized to Morse.
Another snag for the left was in the 8th Congressional District, where Rep. Stephen Lynch beat back a well-funded and well-organized challenger. Lynch, widely considered the most conservative member of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, beat progressive Robbie Goldstein by a significant margin.
In the wide-open race to replace Kennedy in the 4th Congressional District, a tight finish at the top left the contest without an election-night victor. Jacob Auchincloss narrowly led Jesse Mermell late Tuesday in an election where the winner is unlikely to garner 25% of the vote.
In the race’s waning weeks, liberals and progressives coalesced around Mermell in an effort to stop Auchincloss, a former Republican with a controversial past.
On a night when the party’s left wing claimed a major victory in the Senate, a victory for Auchincloss would represent a legitimate move to the right in the 4th. Auchincloss has identified as a “progressive,” won the backing of liberal groups and labor unions, and has run on an agenda more ambitious than that of the mainstream Democratic Party in recent cycles, but his opposition to left-leaning proposals like Medicare-For-All lands him to the right of even establishment figures like Kennedy.
Mermell has campaigned on much of the Elizabeth Warren-Bernie Sanders domestic agenda, pushing policies like single-payer health care and tuition-free public college.
Down ballot, some progressives managed to pick up open seats on the legislature and Governor’s Council, but overall the evening belonged to incumbents. A strong bid from democratic socialist Jordan Meehan in the 17th Suffolk state House district, which covers the Allston-Brighton area, came up short against incumbent Rep. Kevin Honan. In the 35th Middlesex district, longtime incumbent Rep. Paul Donato beat progressive challenger Nichole Mossalam.