Was this Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez part two? Not really, but we’ll get to that in a moment. Another senior Democratic congressman with ten terms under his belt has been knocked off in another primary that nobody had predicted. Congressman Michael Capuano of the 7th district in Massachusetts was dethroned in his primary battle by Boston councilwoman Ayanna Pressley. So thorough was the upset that NBC News is reporting Capuano sent in his concession statement when only 4 percent of the vote had been counted.
A month ago, Ayanna Pressley told NBC News she was in “a fight for the soul of our party.” On Tuesday night, she won it. In a stunning upset in John F. Kennedy’s old congressional district, Pressley, the first woman of color elected to Boston’s City Council, defeated Rep. Mike Capuano, D-Mass., a 10-term incumbent in a high-profile Democratic primary.
Polls had shown Capuano, who has never faced a serious challenge since being elected in 1998, with big leads. But Pressley defied the odds to not just win, but outpace Capuano so decisively that he conceded the race less than an hour and a half after polls closed.
With about a third of precincts reporting, Pressley had 53 percent of the vote to Capuano’s 47 percent, or 16,429 votes to 14,379.
“Clearly the district wanted a lot of change,” Capuano told supporters. “The district just is very upset with lots of things that are going on. I don’t blame them. I’m just as upset as they are. But so be it, this is the way life goes.”
“This is the way life goes.” Well… not usually, Congressman. Normally a ten-term incumbent with no hint of scandal clouding his office and a deep blue district doesn’t get unceremoniously tossed out on his keister.
Still, this one wasn’t entirely like the Ocasio-Cortz race. While it was mostly conducted by Boston media outlets, there actually was some polling for this race. As recently as one month ago, Capuano held a 13 point lead. (That was virtually unchanged from the 12 point lead he enjoyed in January.) But looking deeper into the numbers, Capuano was up 48-35, with a significant number of undecided voters only a month out from the election. As things stand now, it looks like the incumbent will finish with 47% of the vote… pretty much exactly as predicted.
We can probably infer two things from those figures. First, the undecided vote broke almost entirely for the newcomer. And second, the fervor created by other long-shot candidates scoring victories has probably brought a lot of less likely voters out of the woodwork and increased participation in what would normally have been a lackluster primary showing.
Another difference between this race and the defeat of Joe Crowley is that Pressley isn’t some total outsider who went straight from a bartending job to Congress. She’s been engaged in politics and on this track for most of her life, working as a community organizer in Chicago (sound familiar?) before moving to Boston. She interned for Joseph Patrick Kennedy II of the Kennedy clan while in college and went on to work as a staffer at one of his offices later. By 2009 she was serving as political director for John Kerry. She was inevitably going to run for some office of her own and it turned out to be an eight-year stint on the City Council in Boston. She was no babe in the woods like Ocasio-Cortez when it comes to politics.
Pressley also isn’t some teenager. At 44 years of age she’s clearly not a party elder, but she’s been around politics long enough to know the lay of the land. Still, she’s yet another female, minority candidate pulling out a surprising win and that’s what the Democrats have stated they are going for. Pressley should be a shoe-in for victory in the general election since Capuano has never taken less than 80% of the vote in his previous races. Congratulations, Ms. Pressley.