A tough night for Wu, Warren, and progressive insurgents 

Voters gravitate toward more moderate Democrats

TUESDAY’S PRIMARY MAY help solidify the state’s deep blue standing, with Maura Healey one step closer to dislodging Republicans from the only foothold they’ve had in major Massachusetts offices. But the election also highlighted something often lost in the caricatures of the state as a haven of hard-left political orthodoxy: The center of gravity in Massachusetts often rests with left-of-center Democrats who don’t travel in the most progressive lane in contested primaries. 

That was in evidence up and down the statewide ballot, starting with Healey’s uncontested victory for governor after progressive state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz dropped out of the race in June. In her victory speech last night, Healey name-checked outgoing Republican Gov. Charlie Baker not once, but twice, sending a clear signal to more middle-of-the-road Baker voters that she’s looking to win their support. 

As Politico’s Lisa Kashinsky points out this morning, it was a total drubbing for lefties, with every candidate endorsed by the groups Progressive Massachusetts or Our Revolution going down to defeat – or bailing out of their races before even getting to primary day. As CommonWealth’s Shira Schoenberg reports, it was also rough sledding for criminal justice reformers in several races for district attorney. 

The biggest loss of the night for an elected official who was not on the ballot may have been suffered by Boston Mayor Michelle Wu. The mayor, who has often spoken of the “urgency” of going bold on everything from transportation to climate policy, has shown a similar willingness to dive head first into other political races, putting her cards on the table in contests where other pols might keep them closer to the vest. 

In Tuesday’s primary, she joined Sen. Elizabeth Warren in going all-in for attorney general candidate Shannon Liss-Riordan. In backing the multimillionaire Brookline labor lawyer, Wu snubbed her one-time Boston city council colleague Andrea Campbell, who scored a decisive victory despite Liss-Riordan dumping an eye-popping $9.3 million into the race, and is now poised to become the first Black woman to win statewide office in Massachusetts. 

The race didn’t divide neatly along ideological lines, with Healey, Sen. Ed Markey, and Rep. Ayanna Pressley supporting Campbell in what became something of a proxy battle of progressive political might against Warren and Wu. 

Wu also found herself tangled up – with lots of other progressive pols – in the ugly Suffolk County district attorney’s race. She had endorsed challenger Ricardo Arroyo, but pulled back her support in the face of a years-old allegation of sexual assault against him. 

Tensions with current DA Kevin Hayden surfaced as soon as Wu announced her endorsement of Arroyo in May. “If Mayor Wu believes a novice attorney with zero public safety experience should be the top law enforcement officer in the county, that’s her choice,” a Hayden spokesman said at the time. “We’re confident voters will disagree.”

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

Even in rescinding her endorsement of Arroyo last month, Wu took a swipe at Hayden. “I continue to have serious concerns about Mr. Hayden’s judgment in prosecuting cases, his handling of media scrutiny of pending cases and his conduct in office,” she said in her statement. Hayden has faced his own controversy over reports that he was prepared to broom any charges against a Transit Police officer involved in a coverup involving a traffic stop with a Hispanic Black man. 

Wu had made it clear that her values aligned more closely with Arroyo’s, but jumping into the race set her up to potentially have to help manage public safety and crime issues in Boston alongside a DA she has voiced strong criticism of. That’s now the situation following Hayden’s victory on Tuesday.