It’s the second time in less than a year that progressives have been dealt a bitter defeat in a crowded primary race.
In a blow to the left, a pro-life candidate who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 emerged victorious from a crowded Democratic primary election to fill the 19th Suffolk Massachusetts state House seat.
Jeff Turco, a self-described “Reagan Democrat” with a history of offensive and controversial comments, topped the four-candidate field with about 36% of the vote, according to unofficial results. He led the field in fundraising leading up to the primary.
“Jeffrey Turco is a Trump supporter who spreads radical anti-abortion rhetoric,” NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts said in a statement fundraising against Turco.
The seat, which covers Winthrop and part of Revere, was vacated when former state House speaker Robert DeLeo stepped down in December after a career that spanned three decades.
“We’re not Somerville and we’re not Cambridge and it’s OK in today’s Democratic Party to have moderates,” Turco told the Boston Herald.
Turco will face Winthrop Republican Paul Caruccio as well as independent candidate Richard Fucillo Jr. in the March 30 special election. It is unlikely that the Democrats will lose the seat. In 2014, a relatively strong election for Massachusetts Republicans, DeLeo was re-elected with more than 70% of the vote. That was the last time Republicans took a stab at the district. In 2020, Donald Trump lost Revere and Winthrop by more than 25 points. Regardless, the result will have little to no impact on the makeup of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, as the Democrats currently hold a 127-31 supermajority in the lower chamber.
Labor organizer Juan Jaramillo finished in second with 30% of the vote, followed by Alicia DelVento (26%) and Valentino Capobianco (8%).
In the waning weeks of the primary, Jaramillo amassed a wave of support on the left, picking up a flood of endorsements from high-profile progressives like US Sen. Bernie Sanders, US Rep. Ayanna Pressley, and Boston City Councilor and mayoral candidate Michelle Wu. He also received the backing from activist and labor organizations, including the Massachusetts Teachers Association and multiple branches of the Service Employees International Union.
Capobianco had also garnered support from the left, picking up endorsements from Bay State progressives like state Sen. Paul Feeney and Attorney General Maura Healey, before allegations of harassment and abuse against the candidate surfaced, leading to a withdrawal of that support. Capobianco denied the allegations.
Each of the three defeated candidates ran significantly to the left of Turco, who has the backing of several police unions and opposes Massachusetts adopting a “sanctuary state” status, which would seek to protect undocumented immigrants from the threat of law enforcement.
“I think that position (on immigration) that Mr. Turco made definitely does not reflect the Democratic Party,” Capobianco said during a February debate. “Especially here in Revere.”
Turco dominated in the wealthier Winthrop while Jaramillo won handily among Revere voters. DelVento also won more than 1,000 Winthrop votes.
It’s the second time in less than a year that progressives have been dealt a bitter defeat in a crowded primary race. Last September, in the higher-profile race for the Bay State’s 4th congressional district US House seat, moderate Jake Auchincloss beat progressive Jesse Mermell by just over 2,000 votes in an election where no candidate cleared 23%. In that race, several other left-leaning candidates garnered significant chunks of the vote.
All of the major candidates in MA-4 primary endorsed Massachusetts’ ballot question 2, which sought to establish a ranked-choice voting system in the commonwealth. With ranked-choice voting, voters select their preferred candidates in order of favorability, moving to second ballots if no candidate surpasses 50%. The goal of a RCV system is to prevent unpopular candidates from winning elections against a splintered opposition.
Mass voters thoroughly rejected the Question 2 initiative last November, despite a huge financial advantage for the “Yes” campaign.
In 2018, Democrat Jared Golden won a US House seat in Maine, the first state to enact a RCV system in the country, despite trailing his opponent, Republican Bruce Poliquin, after the first round of vote tallying. After the first round, voters who had supported independent candidates swung heavily toward Golden, delivering an eventual comfortable victory for the Democrat.
“I hope our great friends and neighbors to the south, the fine People of Massachusetts, reject the broken promises, confusion, and voter fraud inherent in rank voting,” Poliquin told the Massachusetts legislature during a 2019 hearing on potential enacting of a RCV system. “Don’t be hoodwinked like we were.”
The movement to enact ranked-choice voting in Maine materialized after former far-right Gov. Paul LePage won back-to-back terms despite winning significantly less than 50% of the vote.
Deep blue Massachusetts has not had to deal with splintered electorates resulting in radical representatives, but the volatile effects of crowded ballots have now worked their way into Democratic primaries on multiple occasions.
Patrick Cochran is an independent journalist covering politics and grassroots activism.