Down-ballot races heating up in Mass.
Democracy seems to be enjoying a revival across the state
2018 WAS SUPPOSED TO BE THE YEAR of blockbuster matchups in Massachusetts. The de facto leaders of both parties are running for reelection, offering the prospect of bruising contests for both the US Senate and the governor’s office. Instead, the two main event races are blowouts so far, while a bevy of interesting and important elections are taking shape elsewhere. These other contests could impact voters’ pocketbooks, bring competition to our sputtering congressional and legislative politics, and spark debate about reform to key parts of our state government.
Both Gov. Charlie Baker and Sen. Elizabeth Warren are running away with their respective reelection contests. Our WBUR poll out this week finds both incumbents leading their potential general election opponents by 34 to 39 points. Those challengers remain unknown to large majorities of voters statewide. Election Day is still seven months away, but something fundamental would need to shift to provide challengers with the jolt of energy they need.
The action appears to be further down the ballot. Several key ballot questions could make multibillion-dollar differences to the state budget and change economic realities for residents across the state. The Supreme Judicial Court appears poised to decide the fate of the so-called millionaire tax ballot question within weeks. Backroom negotiations on the sales tax, paid family leave, and the minimum wage are contributing to the palace intrigue. Complicating the dealing is the fact that all three are supported by majorities of voters, according to polling. Whether or not a settlement is possible, the ballot questions have already brought attention to issues of economic inequality and workers’ rights in the state.
Meanwhile, a growing number of primary candidates are bucking the state’s penchant for unopposed reelection campaigns. This is true in congressional elections, where there are four Democratic primaries, up from none in 2016. A very diverse field of more than a dozen candidates are running for an open seat in the Third Congressional District. In the First, Seventh, and Eighth Congressional Districts, women are challenging longtime male incumbents.
There is even unexpected competition for often-overlooked positions, like district attorney. The surprise retirement of Suffolk County DA Dan Conley has created an open race. The Democratic incumbents in Worcester and Middlesex counties are both facing primary challenges from the left, all but guaranteeing an ongoing debate over sentencing practices and other criminal justice reforms. In Norfolk County, Republican DA Timothy Cruz is facing a general election challenge from John Bradley, who is currently an independent but says he may switch and run as a Democrat.
irritated him greatly. The Democratic candidates are already discussing reforms meant to expand ballot access, even as a nationwide debate roars over voting rights. Meanwhile, Republicans have posted challengers for each of the state’s constitutional offices except for auditor.
And while the grownups are lacing up their canvassing shoes, the kids are giving us all a refresher in grassroots advocacy, marching and organizing their way toward making a real political difference on gun regulation. The WBUR poll shows most voters support both the students’ actions and their policy goals. None of the specific policies
they are proposing are new, but their media and political savvy, combined with their passion, are forcing the powers that be to take notice.
Steve Koczela is the president of the MassINC Polling Group.