Across the country they’re calling it a political Year of the Woman. But in greater Boston, men are poised to win two high-profile Democratic primaries, for Congress and District Attorney.
That’s the majority opinion of more than 50 political insiders I polled, for their take on where those two races stand heading into summer.
Most of them believe that Congressman Michael Capuano will survive the challenge from Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley; and that Greg Henning will most likely prevail in a five-way race for the open DA seat, which includes three women candidates.
Victories for Capuano and Henning would also be defeats for minority candidates, in a city still waiting to see its majority-minority population reflected in top political offices.
Most of the insiders, however, are not basing their predictions on any headwinds facing female or minority candidates. To the contrary. Many of them believe that Pressley’s racial and gender appeal gives her a fighting chance in what would otherwise be a Quixotic tilt at the windmill of an entrenched incumbent. And several base their prediction of a Henning victory on the presence of multiple women and minorities in the race to split the vote.
I sought out a range of sharp-eyed viewers of the local political scene, in Boston, in the rest of Suffolk County, and throughout the 7th congressional district. Below are more about their responses.
A favorite, but no sure thing
Although 81% of the insiders predict a Capuano victory, they aren’t painting is as a sure thing.
Just 37 percent view a Capuano win as “nearly certain” or “very likely,” with 44 percent considering it “more likely than not” or a “tossup.” The other 19% think Pressley will win—although they were even less sure of the result than those who chose Capuano.
The women insiders were more likely to predict a Pressley victory. More than a quarter of female respondents said Pressley will win, while just 15% of men did.
Mayor Marty Walsh’s endorsement of Capuano looms large among the insiders. Asked what one endorsement could have the greatest impact on the race, the most frequent response was Walsh, who endorsed Capuano in April.
Others, however, expressed doubt that Walsh’s endorsement—or anyone’s—will make much difference. And even some who named Walsh as potentially having the greatest impact added that it is unclear whether the mayor is planning to put his full political organization behind Capuano.
The next most frequent response was U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren. Warren has not endorsed, and many expect her to remain neutral. Her backing could give a much-needed boost to Pressley—or, as one respondent put it: “If she endorsed for Capuano, it would be over.”
Behind Warren, insiders named former Governor Deval Patrick, who has endorsed Capuano.
Others pointed to labor, especially the Service Employees International Union and UNITE Here, as potentially very helpful to Pressley with volunteers, organization, and influence among liberal and Hispanic voters. SEIU’s locals have not endorsed in the race; UNITE Here Local 26 has endorsed Pressley.
Three respondents named Barack or Michelle Obama.
Only two respondents cited Georgia congressman John Lewis, the civil rights leader, as the most important, despite his endorsement of Capuano. (The endorsement of Capuano by the Congressional Black Congress was announced after many of the insiders had responded to the survey.) Others mentioned include the Boston Globe, Hillary Clinton, Maura Healey, EMILY’s LIST, Planned Parenthood, and Bernie Sanders-affiliated Our Revolution Massachusetts.
Pressley, according to several respondents, needs to raise enough money, and run a smart enough campaign, to get her message out to voters. “This is all about whether Ayanna can raise the dough and tell her personal story,” one says.
The power of incumbency, combined with Capuano’s solid progressive record, leaves Pressley a narrow path to victory, they suggest, so she needs to capitalize on every opportunity. She particularly needs to reach those who are more familiar with Capuano than with her—which includes voters outside of Boston, and Hispanics, some of the insiders say.
Capuano, according to some of the insiders, is working hard and running a good campaign, but needs to get his message out about his accomplishments and his liberal credentials. “He has a strong record, but hasn’t had to tout it for a while,” one respondent notes.
But many of the insiders argue that the race will ultimately be decided by the mood of the electorate, more than anything the candidates do. Most think that ultimately those voters will, as usual, opt for the familiar incumbent, with the experience and influence that comes with him. But, they don’t discount the energy for change, passion, and identity representation that could sweep Pressley to victory. As one respondent says: “This isn’t the year to be a grumpy, middle aged white guy, so Capuano has some head winds.”
A safe choice in a reform field
Among the insiders, a solid majority of 60% predict that Assistant District Attorney Greg Henning will win the primary to succeed Dan Conley as District Attorney for Suffolk County.
Evandro Carvalho was the next choice, with 19%, closely followed by Rachael Rollins with 16%. Shannon McAuliffe was picked by 5%. None predicted Linda Champion.
Many of the insiders had praise for Henning, but the main argument for his front-runner status was summed up by a respondent in one word: “Demographics.”
It’s not just that white, male voters are likely to choose the one white, male candidate—it’s that most are not interested in the type of criminal-justice reform being touted by the other four candidates. Although a majority of county residents might want bold reform, the demographics of a primary election will help Henning, insiders say.
“Everyone I know in the high-voting districts of South Boston and West Roxbury are supporting Henning,” one says.
“The numbers favor him, even though his positions probably won’t reflect the majority of voters,” says another.
Others argue that Henning has enough reform credentials—and will pick up enough progressive endorsements—to satisfy those who favor some reform but not too much.
“The only shot for progressives is to rally around one, but it’s starting to get late for that,” says one respondent.
Even those who believe that one of the other candidates will rally the reform vote to beat Henning can’t agree on which one will do it.
Carvalho, a state representative with a base of support and endorsements from other legislators, was seen by many as a strong candidate. “I think Evandro will emerge as the top progressive/reform choice,” one insider says.
But others said that Carvalho has been unimpressive as a candidate in the race so far.
Rollins, according to some, is the candidate of color with the range of experience to appeal broadly. Plus, a few of the insiders note that she appears to have the inside track with national organizations that might want to put significant funding behind a progressive DA candidate.
“Outside money from progressive PACs has dictated these races around the country,” one insider says. “Rollins will have an advantage.”
Yet some of the insiders—including a couple who picked Henning to win—say that McAuliffe is the dark horse to watch in the race.
She is the one who brings the most passion and commitment to reform, they say, which could separate her from the pack. She also has the backing of Sheriff Steven Tompkins, who tends to have a golden touch, one insider says.