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Pressley seeks Ocasio-Cortez-styled win in Boston
BOSTON - Ayanna Pressley is the next progressive candidate hoping to knock off a veteran Democratic lawmaker.
Pressley, the first women of color ever elected to the Boston City Council, is challenging Rep. Mike Capuano (D-Mass.), and hoping the same progressive wave that propelled Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to a primary upset in New York will lift her to victory.
Both women have adopted unapologetic progressive platforms, refuse to take corporate PAC money and bill themselves as fresh faces for a party in need of new life.
The two formed a close bond as they embarked on similar, uphill battles to challenge the Democratic establishment.
But unlike Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old political outsider, Pressley is a polished council member who has been involved in Boston politics for years and served as a Hillary Clinton surrogate in the 2016 presidential election.
Pressley also has struggled to chip away at Capuano's double-digit lead in the polls.
But she's not letting adversity take the wind out of her sails ahead of the Sept. 4 primary.
During a "Pooches for Pressley" fundraiser here at a Boston brewing company on Wednesday, she told an intimate group of her supporters "we can win" as they sipped on craft beers and played with their pups.
"There's public polls, there's internal polls. We take all these things with a grain of salt," said Pressley, who was donning a bright yellow floral jumpsuit and doling out dog treats.
"I knew this was going to be lonely, and uphill, and bruising," she added. "But if I'm telling the truth, it hasn't been that. Most days, we've been building a movement and a community every step of the way."
She also still has time to pick up new supporters. A passerby on a bike, who stopped on the sidewalk outside the beer garden to hear Pressley speak, interrupted with a loud "Amen" at one point.
Right afterward, he wrote down his contact information on the campaign mailing list.
"I get her," he told one of the campaign volunteers.
The primary race here in Massachusetts' 7th district - a diverse, deeply blue area once represented by President John F. Kennedy - has drawn national attention in the wake of Ocasio-Cortez's shock victory over Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.).
And Pressley is seizing on the moment, especially as the Trump administration and "Me Too" movement have fueled calls for more diverse, young and female players to take center stage in the Democratic party.
Several local residents surveyed by The Hill said they have nothing against Capuano, they just want to see a fresh face represent the district, where some constituents have had Capuano as their congressman their entire life.
"It's healthy to have a choice," said one woman wearing an "Ayanna Pressley" button after a primary debate between the two candidates on Tuesday.
Pressley, 44, has racked up high-profile endorsements from Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and musician Questlove.
"Vote her in next," Ocasio-Cortez, the new standard-bearer for the progressive party, tweeted after her own win.
While Ocasio-Cortez has been in high demand on the campaign trail, she has produced mixed results thus far. Of the seven progressive candidates she backed in races on Tuesday, just two prevailed.
But Pressley says she's not relying on Ocasio-Cortez's star power.
"The 14th Bronx is not the 7th Massachusetts. I will not inherit some victory by one inspired win," Pressley told The Hill after the debate on Tuesday. "[Ocasio-Cortez] is inspiring. Her victory is inspiring. But this is a victory that will be won here, voter to voter. And that's what I'm focused on every single day."
Pressley's personal story is part of what has made her a compelling candidate. The Chicago-native openly talks about overcoming hardships, from suffering sexual assault to being raised by a single mother, who was a community activist and passed away from leukemia.
Pressley's upbringing not only shaped her politics - it is also physically represented throughout her campaign. Her mother's favorite color, purple, is splashed on buttons, signs, handouts, and even the "Ayanna Pressley" bandanas tied around the dog collars at Wednesday's pup-themed fundraiser.
She also passes out tote bags to senior citizens in a nod to her mother, who used to dole out plastic bags stuffed with hard candies - "Sandy's candies"- to seniors.
"She gave me my roots, she gave me my wings," Pressley told The Hill on Wednesday morning, right after a meet-and-greet at a senior center in East Boston. "My mother was the one that cared about community. She was socially conscience and civically engaged."
On policy, Pressley has vowed to fight social and economic inequalities and supports far-left ideas such as "Medicare for All," a $15 minimum wage and abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) - a new rallying cry among the liberal base that has divided the party.
But while Capuano would rather reform ICE, he is also a fierce champion for liberal causes and has argued that there is little daylight between the two candidates. Capuano, who has been a member of the Progressive Caucus since he first came to Congress nearly 20 years ago, is doing everything in his power to fend off his primary challenger.
So far, his efforts appear to be working: Capuano maintains a 13-point lead over Pressley, according to a new WBUR poll.
And Pressley, whose campaign war chest has been largely filled by small and individual donations, is being out fundraised by her opponent. Between April and June, Capuano raised $681,000 and has $1.4 million cash on hand, while Pressley raised $367,000 and has just $347,000 cash on hand.
Pressley argues that her election would better represent the diverse district than Capuano, a 66-year-old white male. The area is 49 percent white, 26 percent black, 21 percent Hispanic and 11 percent Asian, according to the most recent census data. (The total amounts to over 100 percent since respondents can check Hispanic alongside any other race.)
"You can't have a government by and for the people if it's not represented by all of the people," Pressley told the packed debate audience at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
Pressley has touted her willingness to challenge the Washington establishment, though neither she nor Capuano would say whether they would support Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for Speaker if Democrats win back the House.
Pressley also says that her vision of bringing grassroots activism and leadership to Capitol Hill is far more important than having seniority.
"I don't define leadership singularly by years served - or even committee titles," she said.
Pressley, though, is not exactly a political newcomer, unlike Ocasio-Cortez, who was a former organizer for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) presidential campaign.
Prior to being elected to serve on the Boston City Council in 2009, Pressley was an aide to former Sen. John Kerry and Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II, two heavy hitters in the state's Democratic party.
But that same political experience has helped boost her policy chops and sharpen her swagger, contributing to a polished performance at Tuesday's debate.
Right before Pressley's opening remarks, several protesters who were advocating for disability rights had to be escorted out of the room after they refused to stop shouting - but Pressley was unfazed.
"First and foremost, I'd like to say, that was a demonstration of democracy," Pressley said without missing a beat, "and I applaud and embrace it. And I thank all of you for participating in democracy today."