Another long-time establishment Democrat has lost a primary election to a progressive challenger.
Ayanna Pressley's surprisingly lopsided win on Tuesday over Rep. Mike Capuano, who has served in Congress for 20 years, is further evidence that Democratic voters are looking for more left-wing candidates. Though Capuano is a liberal, Pressley accused him of failing to provide “bold, activist leadership.”
In her victory speech, the Boston city councilor proclaimed: “These times demanded more from our leaders and our party. It's not just good enough to see the Democrats back in power. It matters who those Democrats are. While our president is a racist, misogynistic, truly empathy-bankrupt man, the conditions which have made the 7th congressional district one of the most unequal in America were cemented through policies made long before he ever descended the escalator at Trump Tower.”
Pressley explained that she decided to run for Congress because “to the many families like my own, it felt like it was us against the world; that government didn't represent us and didn't see us.”
Due to the overwhelming Democratic majority in her district, where minorities outnumber whites, Pressley is almost certain to win the general election in November. She is poised to become the first African-American woman to represent Massachusetts on Capitol Hill.
Pressley appealed to progressive voters by pointing out that Capuano was accepting campaign contributions from corporate political-action committees. She also differed from her opponent in demanding an end to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
Common Dreams pointed out that Pressley's win continued a trend of progressive successes. Candidates running to the left of incumbents have won primaries in New York, Florida and Pennsylvania this year. “This is not just a blue wave; this is a movement that's coming to Congress,” said Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the self-proclaimed democratic socialist running in New York.
In a tweet Tuesday night, Ocasio-Cortez told Pressley: “Let's push together to make Medicare for All, tuition-free college and living wages a reality in America — all without corporate PAC money.”
Pressley claimed that she is a voice for “people who feel seen and heard for the first time in their lives,” adding: “That is the real victory. That is bigger than any electoral victory, and I want to thank you all for being foot soldiers in this movement and for ushering in this change.”
Pressley told NBC News last month that she was in “a fight for the soul of our party.” At the time, she faced long odds of winning that fight. Polls indicated that Capuano was on the verge of cruising to yet another election victory. Many observers were shocked when more than 58 percent of the district's voters cast their ballots for the insurgent candidate, while fewer than 42 percent backed the incumbent.
Capuano conceded that “clearly, the district wanted a lot of change.” He predicted that Pressley “is going to be a good congresswoman, and … Massachusetts will be well served.”
While Capuano “had no whiff of scandal and has a nearly perfect progressive voting record, he hails from an older, more parochial school of politics which Pressley said didn't cut it any more in the Donald Trump era,” according to NBC.
Political professor Peter Ubertaccio of Boston's Stonehill College told CNBC: “This wasn't a battle between a conservative and a liberal. They were both progressives in very good standing. It does point to a generational shift and this notion that a lot of folks are not waiting their turn in the way they might have years ago.”
Pressley made the case at one of her rallies that “a progressive voting record in the most progressive seat in the country is not enough.” She said that “the only way we can beat the hate coming out from Washington is not with a vote; it's with a movement.”
In an NBC interview, Mari Urbana of the left-wing organization Indivisible argued that “the winning strategy in the future of the Democratic Party points to exciting a broad, multiracial coalition of the grassroots — new voters, young voters and people of color.”
Jeffrey Brown, a minister at a black church in Boston, said people in his neighborhood “were taking up not only the hope of Pressley as a congresswoman, but the hope that this community will finally get some of their issues heard and addressed from someone who truly understands them.”
Pressley's emergence on the national political stage is another victory for Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who launched a new progressive movement in his campaign for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. Pressley won Sanders' endorsement by echoing many of his demands, including Medicare for all, free college and a higher minimum wage.
Establishment Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have been resistant to such issues. Progressives maintain that the party must adopt more liberal positions to capture control of Congress in November's mid-term elections, and to deprive President Trump of a second term.