The 2020 primaries may be a year away, but several members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation already have challengers. Perhaps inspired by the women who won congressional seats in 2018 — the most in history — the majority of these challengers are women, many of whom have never run for public office before. But all are hoping for a repeat of Rep. Ayanna Pressley’s upset of 10-year incumbent Michael Capuano in the last primary cycle.
Here are the women who are running against incumbents from Massachusetts.
Jamie Zahlaway Belsito
Challenging: Seth Moulton
Jamie Belsito is a lifelong resident of Massachusetts who is known for her work as an advocate for maternal health care.
Belsito is a graduate of Reading Public Schools and attended Salem State University, where she is now a trustee. She said that the fact that she is a product of the 6th district is one of the reasons she is running for Congress.
“I think that the district needs a representative who knows what it's like to be faced with everyday challenging issues,” she said.
Belsito is the executive director of the Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance and the founder of Effie’s Grace, an organization that advocates for maternal mental health.
Should Belsito win the seat, she said she wants to tackle immigration as her first priority.
“I would move to give individuals temporary green cards like they do when you marry a U.S. citizen,” she said.
Challenging: Joe Kennedy III
Ihssane Leckey of Brookline is a former Wall Street regulator who left her job to run for Congress. She said her work at the Federal Reserve is what inspired her to run for public office, citing a rise of delinquencies on student loans, car loans and credit cards.
“These are indicators for another economic crash,” she told WGBH News. “All of that work that we had done to make sure that the big banks can’t bail themselves out next time there is an economic downturn was being chipped away by Trump's administration. When I saw that being done in my day-to-day work, I knew that my place to fight for us was going to be in Congress.”
An immigrant who arrived in the United States from Morocco at age 20, she is Joe Kennedy III’s only declared Democratic challenger. Kennedy represents District 4, which includes parts of Bristol, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth and Worcester counties.
When asked how she differentiates herself from Kennedy, Leckey said that she sees the urgency of issues like immigration, student debt and climate change.
“We need true progressive representation in Massachusetts,” she said. “The status quo is how we got Trump.”
Leckey identifies herself as a grassroots organizer who supports the Green New Deal and Medicare-For-All. She aligns herself with progressive politicians like Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar.
Challenging: Sen. Ed Markey
Liss-Riordan is a Boston-based labor lawyer known for taking on companies like Uber and Amazon on behalf of workers’ rights. If elected to serve in the Senate, that’s exactly what she wants to focus on.
“I want to go to Washington because I think the voices of working people need to be heard,” she told WGBH News. “I also passionately believe that we need more women in elected office, especially women in the Senate.”
Liss-Riordan has never run for public office before, but she sees that as an advantage.
“I think it's a different perspective [than] someone who's been in Congress for four decades,” she said. “Women can win these races. We can go up against long-time incumbents and come in with a passion and … connect with voters.”
Liss-Riordan is also known for her work as a women’s rights activist, especially in the wake of the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. In 1992, she co-founded Third Wave, an organization that aims to get women of color involved in politics. She also worked under former Rep. Bella Abzug of New York, who was a founding member of the National Women’s Political Caucus.
If elected, Liss-Riordan said she’ll fight to prevent the overturn of Roe v. Wade, and she will continue her advocacy for workers’ rights. She says income inequality is also a priority.
“I think that income inequality is what is causing so many of the problems that we're facing,” she said. “As someone who has been in the trenches, who's seen the battles, has seen the way corporations are bending all the rules and writing all the rules for themselves, I think that's a really important perspective that we need to have out there.”
Challenging: Seth Moulton
After the 2016 election, Peterson started a private Facebook group called “Run For Our Lives,” where she encouraged women to run for political office. She then thought it was time to take her own advice and run herself.
Her campaign against Seth Moulton is not her first attempt to snag a seat from an incumbent. In 2017, she won a seat on the Salem City Council, unseating Republican incumbent Steve Lovely.
“Serving on the council has prepared me very well” for Congress, she said. “Having that real frontline experience is very helpful when you're crafting policy at a higher level, because you really can get that exposure to the full spectrum of the problem.”
Peterson says the district has been underrepresented in Washington with Moulton’s presidential run. “I do think he has moved on,” she said.
Prior to her life in politics, Peterson worked as a financial planner, and she founded the firm Lantern Financial. She said her background in personal finance is one reason she wants to serve in Congress.
“It's really getting to the point where it's impossible for anyone who's struggling to put all the pieces together,” she said.
Should Peterson be elected to serve, she said her top priorities would be easing student loan debt, fighting climate change and improving housing affordability. She said she wants to host workshops where the public can brainstorm ideas for solutions to problems they see in their communities.
Peterson does not plan to seek re-election for her seat on the council amid her 2020 bid for national office.
Challenging: Stephen Lynch
After losing her congressional bid against incumbent representative Stephen Lynch in 2018, Wu, a video game developer, attributed her loss to lack of fundraising.
“My chance of winning was in the single digits,” she told WGBH News. “What I knew from the beginning is, if I was going to beat Lynch, in all likelihood, I was going to need to run against him twice.”
She characterizes her opponent, who was elected in 2001, as “the most conservative Democrat in the House of Representatives.”
Before she joined the 2018 race, Wu co-founded Giant Spacekat, an independent video game development studio based in Boston. She has said in previous interviews that Giant Spacekat's goal was to provide a space for women to create video games.
Wu first caught the public eye when she was harassed for speaking out against sexism in the gaming industry. The incident, known as “Gamergate,” was so high-profile that it inspired an episode of Law & Order SVU.
“There's no good way to have a Law & Order episode made about your life,” she said. Wu said it was this incident that inspired her to run for Congress.
She said her top priority is climate change, and she supports the Green New Deal. She also plans to roll out policy addressing election security.
“As a software engineer, I am uniquely qualified to lead the effort by working with members of Congress [to enact] real reform to our national cybersecurity process.”
Kenya Hunter is an intern with WGBH News.