Tuesday’s primaries were a mixed bag for Massachusetts progressives

Ayanna Pressley scored a big win, but conservative Democrats mostly won renomination.

Boston City Council member Ayanna Pressley, won the Democratic nomination for Massachusetts' 7th Congressional District on Tuesday.
Boston City Council member Ayanna Pressley, won the Democratic nomination for Massachusetts' 7th Congressional District on Tuesday. (PHOTO CREDIT: Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

More than 500,000 Massachusetts Democrats and unrolled voters participated in Tuesday’s Democratic primaries in a blue state where the primary is often much more competitive than the general election. While progressive activists score a couple of historic wins, some of the most conservative Bay State Democrats were able to hold off more liberal challengers.

The marquis victory came in the overwhelmingly Democratic Massachusetts 7th Congressional District, where progressive primary challenger and Boston City Council in Ayanna Pressley won the Democratic nomination over longtime incumbent Rep. Mike Capuano. With no serious opposition in November, she will almost certainly become the first African American woman to represent the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in Congress. But given Capuano’s generally progressive voting record, the shift will likely be one of approach rather than ideology.

Another huge win was notched by Rachael Rollins, who garnered the Democratic nomination to be Suffolk County District Attorney. An experienced prosecutor seen as a leader on criminal justice reform, Rollins would be the first woman of color to hold the job in one of Massachusetts’ largest counties (home to Boston).

Jay Gonzalez, former Secretary of Administration and Finance under then-Gov. Deval Patrick (D), won the Democratic nomination for governor. If he manages to upset incumbent Gov. Charlie Baker (R) this November, he would become the state’s first Hispanic governor.


The primary for the open 3rd Congressional District, being vacated by retiring Rep. Nikki Tsongas (D), was too close to call as of Wednedsay morning. Former Mayoral chief of staff Dan Koh (who could become the first Korean-American Democrat in Congress) trailed former Congressional chief of staff Lori Trahan by a few dozen votes.

But Secretary of State Bill Galvin (D), who was criticized for his record on abortion rights, government transparency and voting rights, easily prevailed over progressive challenger Josh Zakim on Tuesday. Rep. Stephen Lynch (D), who voted against Obamacare in 2010 and has a mixed record on reproductive rights, also won a landslide victory over video game developer and activist Brianna Wu and veteran Christopher Voehl. Civil rights lawyer Tahirah Amatul-Wadud lost handily to incumbent Rep. Richard Neal (D) after mounting a challenge from his left. And state Rep. Colleen Garry, who opposes abortion rights and LGBTQ equality, defeated a more progressive challenger.

Two prominent Democratic state legislative incumbents did lose renomination — House Ways and Means Chair Jeffrey Sanchez and Assistant Majority Leader Byron Rushing (a progressive stalwart and civil rights legend first elected in 1982). But both races were seen as more a rebuke of House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D), than of the incumbents’ progressive records.

CORRECTION (9/5/18 2:33 p.m.): This story has been corrected to fix an incorrect description of Suffolk County as the largest in Massachusetts.