In a jam-packed weekend of campaigning aimed at pushing voters to the polls on Sept. 4, the day after Labor Day, Rep. Mike Capuano and his primary challenger, Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, offered starkly different closing arguments to residents of Massachusetts’ 7th Congressional District.
On Saturday afternoon, Pressley told supporters gathered at the IBEW Local 103 union hall in Dorchester that the nation is in a uniquely precipitous political moment — one in which a conventional approach to Congress no longer suffices.
“These times require bold, visionary, activist leadership,” Pressley said. “Someone that will coalition- and movement-build. Someone that will be a voice and a partner. Someone that will restore your hope and redeem your relationship with government.”
Then, without mentioning Capuano by name, she offered a biting assessment of his performance in office.
"This about more than, ‘How will I vote on what’s already out there?’ Or, ‘What will I cosponsor that already exists?’” Pressley said.
Pressley also suggested that she — and by association, her supporters — had been disrespected over the course of her campaign.
“This is a full-circle moment,” she said at one point. “I’ve stood on this stage before, when I was a candidate for the Boston City Council — discounted, underestimated, and at times discredited. All very familiar.
“Here we find ourselves again,” Pressley continued. “We defied conventional wisdom and narratives. We defied the pundits and the naysayers, the deniers and the defeaters. And we can do it again.”
Afterward, asked to elaborate, Pressley cited suggestions from unnamed “Democrats and so-called progressives” that her candidacy is fueled by “identity politics.”
“This is a charge that is only lobbied against candidates and women of color,” Pressley said. “It seeks to marginalize what my contributions have been to this city and to our party. I am black, and a woman, and unapologetically proud to be both, but that is not the totality of my identity.”
At a get-out-the-vote event at the IUPAT DC 35 union hall in Roslindale Sunday morning, Capuano cast his seven terms in Congress as an unalloyed asset.
“It’s like anything else,” Capuano said. “When I go hire a painter, do I hire a new guy who might be a great guy? That’s why you got training facilities, to train the new guys! Or [do] you hire a guy who’s done it before? Kind of simple.”
He also expressed befuddlement at receiving at receiving a primary challenge in a year in which Democrats hope to retake the House of Representatives.
“There’s no basic, significant issue differences that I’ve learned after, now, eight months on the campaign,” Capuano said. “Really, what it’s about, it’s about the whole thing: ‘I’m angry at Washington, so let’s dump everybody out.’ That never makes a lot of sense.
“When I’m angry, I go and find the person I’m angry at and I take it out on them, as opposed to take it out on my family. And the person that I’m angry at, and the people I’m not happy with, are in the White House, and the people running the Congress now.”
Capuano and Pressley’s pre-primary push highlighted the degree to which this contest has split the Massachusetts political establishment. At IBEW Local 103, Pressley was introduced by Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu and Attorney General Maura Healey, who described the stakes in Tuesday’s primary as incredibly high.
“I want you to know that for the next four days, the fate of our democracy is in our hands,” Healey said. “This is a time to step up. This is a time to knock doors. This is a time to find your voice.”
In Roslindale, Capuano was introduced by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who said Capuano is poised to play a key leadership role if Democrats win control of Congress in November — and that Massachusetts would benefit.
“The last time that we had a delegation in Massachusetts that was able to deliver, truly deliver, with leadership, we had Tip O’Neill and we had Joe Moakley,” Walsh said.
“We have an opportunity here in November,” Walsh added. “Richie Neal is lined up to be chairman of Ways and Means. Jim McGovern is lined up to be chair of the Rules Committee. And Mike Capuano is lined up to be ranking member on Financial Services and Housing and Infrastructure. Those are the issues that we care about. “
While polling on the 7th District race has shown Capuano with a double-digit lead, both candidates said they feel momentum is on their side heading into Tuesday’s election.
“A million dollars with no corporate PAC money, just grassroots money,” Pressley said. “A coalition of almost a thousand grassroots voters. Endorsed by the Globe, the Herald, our attorney general, municipal and elected leaders from throughout the Massachusetts Seventh and three labor unions.”
“Look, we haven’t had opposition in a long time, and I fully admitted in the first couple of months ... there was some rust on the machinery,” Capuano said. “We’ve gotten rid of that rust. We’ve greased it up pretty good. And I think the machine’s running very well.”
Since no Republican is on the ballot for this race in November, the winner of the primary will almost certainly represent the 7th District in 2019.