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Massachusetts Primary Highlights Democratic Differences


Tomorrow is primary day in Massachusetts. And in one Democratic vote for Congress, a veteran lawmaker faces a challenge from a rising star. Here's Anthony Brooks of WBUR.

ANTHONY BROOKS, BYLINE: This race represents, among other things, a generational split. Michael Capuano is 66, first elected to Congress 20 years ago. Ayanna Pressley is 44, first elected to the Boston City Council eight years ago and the first woman of color to serve on that body.


BROOKS: Pressley campaigned in a black church in Boston, from where a group of senior citizens were about to head off on a Boston Harbor cruise.

AYANNA PRESSLEY: I want you all to think of this as the "Love Boat," OK?


PRESSLEY: I want you to feel the love, and I want you to share the love because these are very challenging times.

BROOKS: Pressley's challenge is to convince voters across a district that includes a big part of Boston and its suburbs to expel an experienced progressive from Congress.

PRESSLEY: This is something unusual. Voters are not used to having a choice. They haven't had a choice for this congressional seat for a generation, for 20 years.

BROOKS: Pressley acknowledges that she and Capuano would vote the same way on most, if not all, issues. But she casts herself as a movement-building candidate of change. She says she has the perspective to represent the state's only majority minority district.

JOYCE HARVEY: They're both progressives, but I think Ayanna understands our neighborhood better.

BROOKS: This is Joyce Harvey of Boston's Dorchester neighborhood, who says Pressley will focus on issues like gun violence, domestic abuse and women's rights.

HARVEY: She's a female. She's younger. She will relate better to those things that definitely affect us.

MICHAEL CAPUANO: So thank you all very, very much for coming...


BROOKS: If Pressley is running on change, Michael Capuano is running on his record of securing federal dollars to expand affordable housing, community health centers and public transportation. On a muggy evening in Boston, Capuano rallied with fellow Congressman Joe Kennedy, whose great-uncle, John F. Kennedy, once represented this part of the city. Capuano rejects Pressley's argument that she can better represent this increasingly diverse district.

CAPUANO: I was raised in this district as well. And, in this particular race, I don't think anybody can match my long-term record.

BROOKS: This contest differs in some key ways from the Joe Crowley-Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez race in New York. Unlike Crowley, Capuano is a progressive who favors single-payer health care. Civil rights icon John Lewis, among others, have endorsed him. And unlike Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley, a three-term city councilor, is not a political newcomer. But she is part of a record surge of women and people of color running for Congress who say the Democratic Party must broaden its reach.

PRESSLEY: You know, we are losing youth and women and people of color from the Democratic Party, specifically. Now, why is that?

BROOKS: For his part, Mike Capuano says he understands the challenge, even welcomes it.

CAPUANO: I think that Donald Trump is getting a lot of people upset - I think rightfully so - engendered a lot of activism. I think that's a good thing.

BROOKS: The most recent polls suggest Capuano has an edge in this race. But for Marilyn Foreman of Boston, it represents a tough choice.

MARILYN FOREMAN: I know Capuano for so long, and I think that he's always done really great work. But I usually feel like it's time for change. But I'm just kind of, like, on the fence.

BROOKS: Voters like Foreman could make the decisive difference in the race for the 7th Congressional District.

For NPR News, I'm Anthony Brooks in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Brooks has more than twenty five years of experience in public radio, working as a producer, editor, reporter, and most recently, as a fill-in host for NPR. For years, Brooks has worked as a Boston-based reporter for NPR, covering regional issues across New England, including politics, criminal justice, and urban affairs. He has also covered higher education for NPR, and during the 2000 presidential election he was one of NPR's lead political reporters, covering the campaign from the early primaries through the Supreme Court's Bush V. Gore ruling. His reports have been heard for many years on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.
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