Once again, the old political axiom proved true — the only poll that matters is the one the voters take on election night. And when the voters decided that Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley would replace Congressman Michael Capuano they made their wishes clear by giving her a resounding double-digit victory. Everybody knew — or thought they did — that it would be an uphill battle for Pressley whose grassroots campaign faced off against the resources of incumbent Capuano, including Mayor Walsh’s get out the vote machine. These days sophisticated tracking technology and campaign polling predict election outcomes weeks and months before any voter has cast a ballot. That data is usually right. But, clearly not all the time. Frankly, I am delighted when the folks who worship at the altar of algorithms find their carefully calculated assumptions blown out of the water.
So, Ayanna Pressley’s history making accomplishment was a genuine surprise to all of us. And Pressley’s astonishment was unmistakable in that widely circulated video filmed backstage in the moments after she learned she had won. I think her emotional response revealed a bit of what drew voters to her campaign. They saw someone who would fight to the end, even with strong evidence that she could likely lose. I’ve seen that determination up close years ago when Pressley was up for reelection to the Boston City Council. She had been one of the top vote-getters the last go around, so why I asked, was she running so hard, like a first-time candidate? She looked me in the eye and said emphatically, “Because I do not assume anything. I never take any vote for granted.”
Some see Ayanna Pressley’s win as a young woman of color against an older white incumbent as a part of a national trend. But other local victories don’t seem to follow that narrative. As a 30-year incumbent, Congressman Richard Neal beat younger challenger Tahirah Amatul-Wadad who is black and Muslim. State Senator Jeffrey Sanchez the highest-ranking Latino in state government, and veteran State Representative Bryon Rushing who is African-American, were voted out by residents who voted in political newbies Nika Elugardo, and Jonathan Santiago. While both of the newcomers are younger, they are both also persons of color. Pressley and Capuano’s post-election comments may offer the best analysis of these results. Capuano noting that, “Clearly the district wanted a lot of changes.” and Pressley emphasizing, “It’s not good enough to see the Democrats back in power, but it matters who those Democrats are.”
Two months ago, National Democratic party chair Tom Perez apologized at an Atlanta fundraiser acknowledging that the party has taken women candidates, and specifically black women candidates for granted. “It won’t happen again, he said. And of course, upsets like Pressley’s will help ensure that. There is no Republican on the ballot for the 7th District so Ayanna Pressley should be in Congress in 2019. This ain’t your grandfather’s Democratic Party anymore.