Capuano seeks to avoid Crowley’s fate

Capuano seeks to avoid Crowley’s fate
© Greg Nash

Could Rep. Michael CapuanoMichael (Mike) Everett CapuanoBlue wave poses governing risks for Dems Massachusetts candidate Pressley says she’s working to stop Kavanaugh’s confirmation Women candidates set nationwide records MORE (D-Mass.) be the next Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.)? 

Crowley’s primary loss to a young progressive last month has raised questions about whether Capuano, who hasn’t faced a primary challenger in two decades, could be the latest incumbent to go down in a political upset as he faces off against Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, a young, progressive female candidate of color.

But Capuano, a nine-term congressman, is taking the primary race in his liberal Boston-area district seriously and may have even learned a lesson from Crowley’s shocking defeat to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old Latina and political newcomer. The veteran Massachusetts lawmaker agreed to a series of public debates with his primary opponent next month and is canvassing doors and hitting the phones.

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Debates were something Crowley skipped out on, and it turned out to be a critical mistake.


“I can’t speak to Joe’s race, I don’t know what he did. I just know I’m taking it seriously. And I have been since January,” Capuano told The Hill.

“Look, it took us a couple months to get the rust off the wheels, no question. That rust is off the wheels,” he added. “We’re out knocking on doors every night, we’re on the phones every night, we’ve raised enough money to campaign. So everything that you would do in a normal campaign, we’re doing.”

The primary taking place in Massachusetts’s 7th District on Sept. 4 has drawn the attention of election observers because of the similarities to the Crowley race.

Capuano, 66, will battle Pressley, the first woman of color ever elected to the Boston City Council and an unapologetic liberal who has vowed to fight for a host of progressive causes, though at 44 she is older than Ocasio-Cortez, who is 28.

Just like Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley refuses to take corporate PAC money and has called to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which has quickly become a new rallying cry for the liberal base, drawing a contrast with Capuano.

And like Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley is endorsed by Justice Democrats, a PAC that supports progressive candidates.

Ocasio-Cortez herself has already thrown her support behind Pressley and endorsed other progressive primary candidates over Democratic incumbents, actions that have ruffled feathers in her party.

The pair of congressional candidates has also formed a close personal relationship throughout their upstart campaigns, bonding over the fact that they are both women of color vying to take on the party establishment.

“Vote her in next,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted last month, referring to Pressley.

“Together, we will change the world,” Pressley tweeted after congratulating Ocasio-Cortez on her win.

Capuano continues to maintain a lead in the polls, with an Emerson College poll released this week showing him with a 9-point lead over his Democratic challenger.

Capuano has also outraised Pressley. Between April and June, Capuano raised $681,000 and he has $1.4 million cash on hand, while Pressley raised $367,000 and has just $347,000 cash on hand. 

But as the Crowley loss showed, money doesn’t always translate into victory. It is a lesson Capuano has absorbed, and he’s making a clear effort to avoid the same stumbles that doomed his colleague.

Even before Crowley went down in flames, Capuano was gearing up for his primary battle. The long-term congressman and former mayor of Somerville, Mass., said he immediately canceled a planned vacation that he takes every January as soon as he heard Pressley was running.

Capuano has been knocking on doors, making calls, meeting with constituents and holding campaign events. And Capuano will hold a series of debates against Pressley next month. 

Crowley, who relocated his family to Virginia, was hammered for skipping out on a debate with Ocasio-Cortez and for not spending enough time in his Queens district.

“I stay close to the street,” Capuano, a Somerville native, said in a thick Boston accent. “My family lives there, and I’m working my butt off. Every day I get up, I’m 100 percent focused on this.”

Capuano and his allies also dispute the notion that his situation is similar to Crowley’s, who was much more moderate and a member of the Democratic leadership team.

For one, they say Capuano is one of the most liberal lawmakers in the Democratic caucus, having been a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus since he first joined Congress nearly 20 years ago.

Capuano has been a fierce champion for immigration and same-sex marriage and women’s rights, voted against the Iraq war and Patriot Act, opposed the initial creation of ICE, and supports “Medicare for all” — another core pillar of the progressive platform.

That could make it harder for Pressley to make a sharp contrast with Capuano in the primary.

And as a member of the House Financial Services Committee, Capuano also helped pass the Dodd-Frank Act into law, which instituted a series of financial regulatory reforms.

“In the Democratic caucus, Capuano is known as a progressive, super liberal,” said a passionate Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), who has campaigned for Capuano and joined him in the district last week for a series of immigration events. 

Capuano’s allies also point out that Pressley, though offering a compelling story, isn’t a mirror image of Ocasio-Cortez, who is a political outsider, self-described democratic socialist and former organizer for Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate Ben & Jerry’s co-founders announce effort to help 7 Dem House challengers Dems look to Gillum, Abrams for pathway to victory in tough states MORE’s (I-Vt.) presidential campaign.

By contrast, Pressley has been a player in Boston politics for years and was even a surrogate for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate Heller embraces Trump in risky attempt to survive in November Live coverage: Cruz, O'Rourke clash in Texas debate MORE’s presidential campaign, with harsh words about Sanders.

Still, it’s clear that there is a growing hunger for generational change in the Democratic Party — and that could prompt voters to send more fresh faces to Washington.

“Here in the 7th, people are incredibly compelled that they have a choice for the first time in a generation,” Sarah Groh, Pressley’s campaign manager, said in a telephone interview. “These times demand activist leadership. Councilor Pressley has both the experience as a policymaker here in Boston, but additionally, she brings a fresh lens and approach.”