Progressives aim for big night in Massachusetts

Progressives are hoping for a big night in Massachusetts as voters head to the polls in the state's Democratic primaries on Tuesday.

Groups like the Sunrise Movement and Our Revolution Massachusetts have gone all-in for progressive insurgent and Holyoke, Mass., Mayor Alex Morse (D), who is taking on House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealHouse passes giant social policy and climate measure The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - House to vote on Biden social spending bill after McCarthy delay Democrats press toward vote on massive Biden bill MORE (D-Mass.).

Progressives are also coalescing around incumbent Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyEquilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Southern Company — Pledged money not going to Indigenous causes Senate Democrats call on Biden to push for COVID-19 vaccine patent waivers at WTO The Hill's Morning Report - Ins and outs: Powell renominated at Fed, Parnell drops Senate bid MORE (D-Mass.), who is facing a high-profile primary challenge from Rep. Joe KennedyJoseph (Joe) Patrick KennedySupreme Court confounding its partisan critics Warren says she'll run for reelection to Senate Five centrist Democrats oppose Pelosi for Speaker in tight vote MORE III (D-Mass.).


Additionally, major left-wing figures such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezGreene: McCarthy 'doesn't have the full support to be Speaker' Omar calls out Boebert over anti-Muslim remarks, denies Capitol incident took place Five reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season MORE (D-N.Y.) have waded into the race. The first-term lawmaker recently participated in an ad for Markey, with whom she co-wrote the Green New Deal. And her group Courage to Change has endorsed Morse, who has compared his race to Ocasio-Cortez’s surprise primary win against former Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) in 2018.

"That’s exactly what’s playing out here in this district,” Morse told The Hill. “While people are suffering, we have a congressman who’s using his power for corporations and special interests.”

The effort from the groups comes nearly two years after Justice Democrats supported then-progressive candidate Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyWill media portrayals of Rittenhouse lead to another day in court? Evidence for a GOP takeover mounts — Democrats must act fast Michelle Wu's Victory heralds a new age of climate politics MORE, who went on to unseat 10-term incumbent Rep. Mike Capuano (D) in Massachusetts.

“I’m seeing very similar trends,” said Solomon Steen, an Our Revolution Massachusetts member, who campaigned for Pressley in 2018. “[It’s] just this real phenomenon that I think is getting undercovered in the press of people coming into politics through issue activism. Not just people who have been doing this for years, but a lot more younger people who are very passionate about whatever their issue is, whether it’s environmental justice, whether it’s racial justice.”

Progressives are hoping to replicate recent upsets over incumbents in New York and Missouri. In New York, former middle school principal Jamaal Bowman ousted 16-term incumbent Rep. Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelLawmakers pay tribute to Colin Powell NYC snafu the latest flub from a broken elections agency Cynthia Nixon backs primary challenger to Rep. Carolyn Maloney MORE (D-N.Y.) in the state’s 16th Congressional District. Meanwhile, in Missouri, registered nurse and activist Cori Bush defeated 10-term Rep. Wm. Lacy ClayWilliam (Lacy) Lacy ClayThe FCC must act to promote minority-owned broadcasting Cori Bush hits her stride by drawing on activist past Lobbying world MORE (D-Mo.) in the state’s 1st Congressional District.

Bowman has endorsed Markey and Morse in their primaries, while Bush has put her support behind Markey.


Despite the 39-year-old Kennedy’s track record as a member of the House Progressive Caucus, the 74-year-old Markey has been able to harness left-wing support thanks in part to his stance on environmental issues. Markey’s campaign slogan reads, “It’s not your age — it’s the age of your ideas that’s important.”

The senator, who is the longest serving member of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, has received endorsements from groups like the Sunrise Movement, Our Revolution and the Working Families Party.

“When we’re talking about being a movement candidate, we’re not just talking about someone necessarily [who] was a volunteer and came up through their organization,” said Steen of Our Revolution Massachusetts. “We’re talking about someone who is willing to be the inside voice for these outside groups and enable them to access some of the more arcane and inaccessible elements working within Congress.”

Kennedy argued in an interview with The Hill that endorsements from outside groups are not ultimately going to decide the contest that has been playing out across the commonwealth for nearly a year.

The congressman also pointed out that a number of the progressive groups endorsing Markey in the primary have endorsed him in prior races.

“I don’t think there’s a credible argument that can be made there, whether it’s on strength on the environment or human rights or LGBT rights, or anything else, my record there is a very strong one, and I’m proud of it,” Kennedy said. 

The RealClearPolitics polling average shows Markey up by 11.2 points.

Meanwhile, strategists say that attention from both the media and high-profile progressives in the Senate primary could also help turn out the vote for Morse in his race against Neal.

Morse has sought to position himself as a progressive alternative to Neal, telling the left-leaning Jacobin magazine over the weekend that if elected, he would be one of the only Democrats to stand up to the party’s establishment wing.

“I would be one of the few Democrats that stands up to the Democratic Party, not just the Republican Party, in fundamentally changing our federal budget to reinvest in people and in domestic priorities like transportation, health care, education, and other social programs,” Morse told the publication.

Morse in an interview with The Hill argued that Neal is largely absent from the district, saying, “You would never know that Congressman Neal has power when you look at the district."

Neal’s campaign hit back against the claim, calling it “pure fiction” and citing 700 Neal-hosted events in the district in recent years.


All of the candidates competing on Tuesday will also have to contend with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on voter turnout. Tuesday will mark the first statewide vote in Massachusetts to include a vote-by-mail option.

Progressive groups on the ground in Massachusetts say they are working with voters to ensure they understand how the mail-in system works, as well as helping them overcome issues in the system.

“A lot of people are having to make decisions about can they safely vote in person [while] maintaining socially distant guidelines, and what’s their risk there,” said Steen.

The vote-by-mail option could lead to record turnout, with Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin (D) predicting that there could be more than 1.2 million and as much as 1.3 million Democratic ballots cast on Tuesday. 

Max Greenwood contributed to this report.