AOC gives Morse a homestretch boost

Ocasio-Cortez PAC throws support behind challenger to Neal

IN THE LATEST headline-grabber in a race that has had several in recent weeks, Alex Morse’s campaign to unseat Rep. Richard Neal in next week’s Democratic primary, the national leader of the party’s insurgent left wing, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is throwing her support behind the Holyoke mayor.

Courage to Change, the political action committee Ocasio-Cortez has deployed to boost lefty challengers to incumbents, is jumping into the First Congressional District race with less than a week to go.

“I am so proud to have the endorsement of @AOC‘s @CouragetoChange,” Morse tweeted. “When AOC took on an entrenched incumbent, she changed the Democratic Party for the better. It would be an honor to serve alongside her in Congress to fight for progressive change that benefits working families.”

From the start, political watchers have debated the degree to which Ocasio-Cortez’s 2018 victory in New York City over veteran Democrat Joe Crowley, or Ayanna Pressley’s win over Mike Capuano in the Boston-based district he represented for 20 years, provide a template for Morse’s run against Neal, chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. In both of those contests, race and gender played a role in the appeal of sweeping out the old and bringing in the new, with Ocasio-Cortez, who is Latino, and Pressley, who is black, bringing racial diversity and more female representation to the halls of Congress long dominated by white men.

Those dynamics don’t figure in the Western Mass. contest between a younger white man (Morse is 31) and older one (Neal is 71). And the demographics of the sprawling district, which includes Springfield and Holyoke but also scores of small towns reaching to the New York border, are very different from those of the urban districts where progressive primary challengers have recently notched victories. (On top of the 2018 wins by AOC and Pressley, challengers knocked off incumbent House Democrats this summer in primaries in St. Louis and another New York City district.)

While race and gender have not been at play in the race, sexual orientation has suddenly landed in the campaign narrative. Earlier this month, College Democrats of Massachusetts, in a letter to Morse that was then leaked to the UMass Amherst student newspaper The Daily Collegian, accused the openly gay mayor of pursuing inappropriate relationships with UMass students.

Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, left, and Rep. Richard Neal square off in a Democratic primary debate.

The news initially looked devastating to Morse’s campaign, but lots of unanswered questions surfaced, and no one has yet come forward to publicly level any accusations of misconduct against him. But lots of intrigue, including allegations of skullduggery on the part of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, has ensued. Texts emerged that gave the whole episode the look of a calculated hit job.

Morse acknowledged having consensual relationships with UMass undergrads. With his sex life suddenly in the spotlight, gay activists have voiced fears that the episode will discourage others in the LGBT community from seeking office.

Earlier this week, the New York Times dug into the saga, and its headline pronounced Morse “Accused, Condemned and then Vindicated.” It now seems an open question whether the whole ordeal might give Morse a boost. It has certainly brought attention to a race that had been overshadowed by the Markey-Kennedy primary for Senate and open contest for the House seat being vacated by Kennedy.

Could the endorsement from Ocasio-Cortez give Morse a further bigger boost as the race comes down to the wire?

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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.

Ed Markey sure seems to think it’s political gold to have her attached to your run. Besides the Malden pol himself, AOC’s image pops more in his Senate campaign ads than that of any Massachusetts resident. And in speeches and debates we’ve probably been told more times by Markey that he is cosponsor with her of the Green New Deal than we’ve been reminded that his father “drove a truck for the Hood milk company.” (And that’s saying something.)

There’s reason, however, to wonder whether her endorsement will be as powerful for Morse. Markey has used Ocasio-Cortez’s backing to push the idea that he’s the true progressive in his tilt with Joe Kennedy, despite their virtually identical positions on nearly every major issue.

In the Western Mass. contest, actual differences are clear between the candidates, and Morse’s status as the more progressive choice is not in dispute. But the AOC endorsement puts a nationally recognized exclamation mark on it — and that’s certainly good news for Morse.