Yesterday’s Democratic primary elections in Massachusetts saw another shock win by a young woman of color against a long-time incumbent.
It wasn’t supposed to happen. Ayanna Pressley trailed Rep. Joe Capuano by 13 percentage points in the last poll before Tuesday’s Democratic primary to represent Massachusetts’s 7th district in Congress. When Capuano, a 10-term incumbent, conceded an hour after the polls closed, he was trailing Pressley by 18 points. Because there is no Republican running in the district, the 44-year-old Pressley, who in 2009 became Boston’s first female African-American city council member, is now expected to become the first African-American woman from the state to serve in the House of Representatives. The victory is yet a another sign of a demographic sea change taking place within the Democratic party, with constituents opting for fresh, aggressively progressive candidates over establishment mainstays. Appropriately, Pressley’s campaign slogan was #ChangeCantWait.
Like many of the other new candidates who have emerged this year, Pressley supports Medicare-for-all, abolishing ICE and other progressive policies that the mainstream left has yet to fully embrace. Her primary victory over Capuano recalls Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s June defeat of Rep. Joe Crowley, also a 10-term incumbent, in New York’s 14th congressional district. Though Pressley is not an outsider like Ocasio-Cortez and Capuano is far more progressive than Crowley, Capuano accepted corporate money, which, like Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley has refused to do. Out-raised by a wide margin, she ran a grassroots campaign based on small donations, social media and on-the-ground activism.
After her win, Pressley lost no time in going after Trump.
“Our president is a racist, misogynistic, truly empathy-bankrupt man,” Pressley, 44, told supporters on Tuesday night. “It is time to show Washington, D.C., both my fellow Democrats, who I hope will stand with us and Republicans who may stand in our way … change is coming and the future belongs to all of us.”
But as Eoin Higgins writes, the benefits of her win are not that clear cut because Capuano has strong anti-war credentials that Pressley lacks.
Capuano’s defeat is a setback for progressive foreign policy activists. As The Intercept reported last month, Capuano has been a forceful voice against U.S. involvement in foreign wars, while Pressley — as a municipal officer — is a relatively blank slate with respect to international affairs. In a questionnaire provided to both candidates by Massachusetts Peace Action, Pressley declined to answer whether she would vote to end military intervention in Afghanistan or support legislation prohibiting military forces from being stationed in Syria. Capuano answered yes to both.
Capuano has been a leader with respect to opposition of the war in Libya, and has shown a willingness to criticize his own party’s approach to the region. He also has a progressive advantage on Israel-Palestine issues, having defended the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement on First Amendment grounds against a bill intended to criminalize it. Pressley declined to address the issue directly.
The candidates that Presley and Ocasio-Cortez defeated were fairly progressive but were hampered by being viewed as too close to the party establishment. The Democratic party leadership should take careful note that their brand of insider politics is losing favor and that many of the positions that they once labeled as considered too extreme are now becoming mainstream.