- Rep. Richard Neal defeated primary challenger Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse in Massachusetts 1st Congressional District.
- Neal, 71, is the chairman of the influential House Ways and Means Committee.
- Morse, 31, the first openly gay mayor of the college town of roughly 40,000, ran on a progressive platform with endorsements from the AOC-wing Justice Democrats, the Sunrise Movement, and Andrew Yang.
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Polls in Massachusetts closed at 8 p.m. Eastern Time.
A contentious primary in Western Massachusetts with major implications for House Democratic leadership wrapped up on Tuesday.
Rep. Richard Neal, chairman of the influential House Ways and Means Committee, defeated a primary challenge from the left in the 1st District from Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, Decision Desk HQ projects.
Neal, 71, has served in Congress since 1989, formerly the mayor of Springfield. He has one of the most influential positions of power in Washington atop the House Committee on Ways and Means, holding an iron grip on most key pieces of legislation in the House due to the committee’s role in determining and appropriating the funding for legislation.
The district, which includes all of Berkshire and Hampden counties, is safely Democratic and voted for 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by over 20 points in 2016.
Morse, 31, was 22 when he became the first openly gay mayor of the college town of roughly 40,000. He’s running on a progressive platform of expanding healthcare, including Medicare for All, economic justice, and expanding access to housing.
Morse’s team branded Neal as “corporate America’s favorite Democrat,” highlighting the millions of dollars in support he’s received from corporate interests over this years, slamming him for holding up legislation on surprise medical billing and other progressive priorities, and, in their view, stalling action on demanding President Donald Trump’s taxes, the Huffington Post noted.
Neal’s campaign countered that his decades of experience in Congress and his hold of the Ways and Means gavel allows him to deliver on concrete assistance for the district, whose rural areas have been hit hard by COVID-19, and passing legislation on some of the biggest Democratic priorities.
Morse received endorsements from key progressive political figures and groups including Justice Democrats, OurRevolution, the Sunrise Movement, the Massachusetts Nurses’ Association, and former 2020 presidential candidate Andrew Yang, in addition to a large cohort of local organizations and leaders.
Unseating one of the most powerful members of Congress was a tall order, but Morse’s campaign gained momentum in recent weeks, with Morse announcing on August 30 that his campaign had raised $2 million total and $1 million in the month of August alone.
The high-profile race has also attracted a fair amount of outside spending, Federal Election Commission records show. Indivisible, the Justice Democrats, MoveOn’s PAC, and the Nurses’ Association have all spent money in the race supporting Morse and opposing Neal. The Democratic Majority for Israel PAC, the American Hospital Association, and the American Working Families PAC, a single-candidate PAC created to support Neal, are spending money supporting Neal.
The race’s received national attention when the student Democrats at UMass Amherst’s chapter of the College Democrats of Massachusetts accused Morse of misconduct. In a letter sent to the UMass school paper, the Daily Collegian, the students said Morse used his position teaching a political science course on campus and appearances at student Democrat events to find male students for romantic relationships.
But subsequent reporting by The Intercept revealed a plot by two members of UMass Dems leadership to sabotage Morse’s campaign, with one student reportedly banking on a job with Neal’s office. The Intercept also reported that leaders of the state’s Democratic party assisted and advised students in bringing the allegations to light, despite the state party having an official stance of not getting involved in primaries.
Morse has been adamant that he never had a non-consensual encounter with a student. “I want to be clear that every relationship I’ve had has been consensual. However, I also recognize that I have to be cognizant of my position of power,” he said.
The Neal campaign denied any collaboration with the students, and just days before Election Day on August 29, the leadership of the UMass wrote a letter apologizing to Morse and issued a public statement expressing regret for the way they presented the allegations and for any way in which their statement invoked homophobic tropes about gay men.
“Some political observers think the scandal may have actually helped Morse, raising his profile in the district and rallying die-hard progressive activists and members of the LGBTQ community to his cause,” the Huffington Post reported, noting that Morse raised $130,000 on the day the first Intercept article was released.