What you need to know about Tuesday’s most interesting primary election

A Democratic incumbent faces a young, progressive woman of color.

Ayanna Pressley could be the next progressive upset of a long-time incumbent Democrat in Massachusetts. CREDIT: Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Ayanna Pressley could be the next progressive upset of a long-time incumbent Democrat in Massachusetts. CREDIT: Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Tuesday’s most interesting election is the primary in Massachusetts’ 7th congressional district, where incumbent Rep. Mike Capuano (D) faces a primary from Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley.

In some ways, the race mirrors a number of other high-profile contested primaries — including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Cynthia Nixon’s races in New York, as well as Andrew Gillum’s in Florida — as Pressley, a younger woman of color, has mounted a challenge against the establishment favorite.

Capuano does have some progressive bonafides. Like Pressley, he supports a Medicare for All, single-payer health care system. And Tuesday’s race diverges from a number of other high-profile contested primaries in that Pressley is hardly a first-time candidate: She was first elected to the Boston City Council in 2009, becoming the first woman elected to the city’s council in its history.


But Pressley has certainly staked out progressive ground in the race. Capuano does not, for example, support abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a policy point that has become somewhat of a litmus test among progressive candidates. Pressley, on the other hand, says she supports “defunding ICE and eliminating its Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) functions.”

“Our immigration system is fundamentally broken and ICE’s role in supporting the existing system – including separating families seeking refuge in the United States and conducting indiscriminate deportation raids in our communities – is creating an atmosphere of toxic fear and mistrust in immigrant communities,” Pressley said in a statement earlier this summer.

Pressley has also refused any PAC money, while Capuano has taken money from a number of large donors, including more than a dozen PACs associated with biotech companies.


“This is a place where we really see daylight between these two campaigns,” said Sarah Groh, Pressley’s campaign manager, told WBUR. “Our focus has always been, and will continue to be, how we reach folks who may not have had opportunities to have exposure to the congressman and who too often don’t have time with the candidates.”

The district that Pressley and Capuano are running to represent is solidly blue, and the winner of Tuesday’s primary is expected to win in a landslide come November. The district is also, as The New York Times recently noted, the only congressional district in Massachusetts with more people of color than white people.

In the available polling so far, Capuano has led by double digits. But Gillum’s recent upset in Florida’s gubernatorial primary, as well as Ocasio-Cortez’s win in New York, have showed that pollsters sometimes underestimate grassroots enthusiasm, particularly among women and voters of color.

Capuano has been endorsed by Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-MA), Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), and the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, among a long list of others. Meanwhile, Pressley has secured the endorsement of Ocasio-Cortez and Justice Democrats — one of the groups behind Ocasio-Cortez’s upset win — as well as both of Boston’s major newspapers, The Boston Globe and The Boston Herald.

“Pressley, who was the first black woman elected to the City Council and would be the first black woman ever elected to Congress in Massachusetts, has rare political talents, combining personal charisma with a shrewd understanding of how to translate values into policy,” the Globe’s endorsement read.

The editorial board went on, saying, “The district needs more than just money (and anyway, Pressley doesn’t seem like she’d be a pushover when it comes to jockeying for federal cash). It also needs an advocate in touch with the everyday experiences of the district’s residents, including the most vulnerable.”


Pressley has not, however, been endorsed by EMILY’s List. The group told The Daily Beast they don’t endorse in primaries between pro-choice Democratic candidates, saying of Pressley, “She is extremely talented, and we believe that she will always find a way to fight for working families and promote progressive values.”

Capuano isn’t the only Massachusetts incumbent who faces a primary from a young progressive Tuesday. In the first district, 15-term incumbent Rep. Richard Neal (D) is running against 44-year-old Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, a black Muslim lawyer who supports a single-payer health care system and universal pre-kindergarten, among other progressive issues.

Amatul-Wadud has taken shots at Neal’s large industry donations, telling local media, “Having taken this much money from various industries, it’s hard [for Neal] to now go and advance policies that may require those industries to take responsibility where they might not want to.”

Neal has acknowledged that Amatul-Wadud is a serious challenger, too.

“You can see by the number of people in the campaign headquarters here this morning — it’s pretty substantial,” he told New England Public Radio. “So I’m taking it seriously.”