Neal leads incumbent sweep in congressional races

Lynch and Moulton also beat back primary challengers

US REP. RICHARD NEAL,  the powerful chair of the US House Ways and Means Committee, on Tuesday fended off Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, his strongest primary challenger in recent years, to hold on to his congressional seat.

Neal, a Democrat from Springfield, defeated the younger, more progressive Morse after a heated race that grew intensely personal amid allegations related to Morse’s sexual relationships with college students. Neal represents the 1st Congressional District, which covers most of Western Massachusetts.

Incumbent US Reps. Seth Moulton and Stephen Lynch also beat back Democratic primary challenges.

The Associated Press called the 1st District race for Neal just before 10 p.m., with Neal leading Morse with 60 percent of the vote.

Neal addressed supporters after his victory at Union Station in Springfield, a newly reopened train station in Springfield that Neal secured nearly $100 million to renovate. “I delivered, and my intention is to keep delivering,” Neal said.

In his speech, Neal touted his belief that “government can change lives” and his commitment “to make America a place where no one is to be forgotten and no one is to be left behind.”

Neal said he will continue working to expand universal health care, defend Social Security, invest in rail from Springfield to Boston, invest in renewable energy and infrastructure, and address racial and economic disparities.

Neal, 71, has been in the US House since 1988 and rose in the ranks to become head of the powerful committee that writes tax policy and deals with fiscal issues. His position has allowed him to bring back billions of dollars in earmarks to the district. He has developed an expertise on tax policy, with a focus on protecting Social Security, Medicare, and pension programs, and has been involved in negotiating trade deals and in US-Ireland relations. 

Neal has built up strong relationships on both sides of the political aisle, with state and national leaders, which boosted his campaign. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi endorsed Neal at a press conference last week, and Republican Gov. Charlie Baker tweeted his support for Neal, saying the congressman has been a “powerful voice,” and “the Commonwealth is a better place because of his hard work.”

Neal raised and spent more than $3.7 million this campaign cycle while Morse raised a fraction of that — $1.3 million.

Morse, 31, has portrayed himself as a progressive challenger to Neal, in the model of New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who unseated veteran New York Rep. Joe Crowley in 2018 and has become an icon of the young, progressive movement. Ocasio-Cortez endorsed Morse, as did Jamaal Bowman, a progressive Democrat from New York who ousted House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel in a primary upset in July.

Morse became the youngest and first openly gay mayor in Holyoke’s history when he was elected in 2012 at age 21.

Morse supports a Medicare-for-all health care system, in contrast to Neal, who has focused on improving the Affordable Care Act. He supported progressive positions, including moving to 100 percent renewable energy, increasing the federal minimum wage to $15, and legalizing abortion nationally. He focused on addressing opioid addiction, with an ad featuring his brother who died of an overdose.

Morse, in his concession speech, said he has no regrets. “This specific election might be over but the fight for those core values in our country continues,” Morse said. He said he will continue to fight to “fix the broken system leaving millions of Americans behind day in and day out.”

Morse acknowledged the challenge of taking on “one of the most powerful incumbents in Congress,” and did not back off of his campaign critique of Neal, accusing him of using his power to “benefit corporations and special interests” that donate to his campaign.

Ray La Raja, a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said Neal’s enormous name recognition and ability to use his power to help his district makes him hard to beat. “Even though he’s a Washington insider, he tends to his constituency quite a bit,” La Raja said.

While parts of the district are progressive, such as Easthampton and pockets in the three western counties, there are also a lot of working and middle-class Democrats in cities like Pittsfield, Springfield, and West Springfield who favor a more centrist candidate.

Neal’s supporters say the middle of a pandemic is not the time to test new leadership – particularly when Neal could potentially direct more economic stimulus money to Massachusetts. “We’re in an economic crisis, a health care crisis…seniority and experience are the qualifications we need right now,” said Candy Glazer, chair emeritus of the Longmeadow Democratic Town Committee and a long-time activist in Western Massachusetts Democratic politics.

Neal has at times faced criticism for being inattentive to the more rural parts of his district. But Glazer said Neal is unlike Crowley, the New York congressman ousted two years ago, who was criticized for being out of touch with his district’s needs. “He has delivered for this district,” Glazer said. “He’s here in the district, he’s home every weekend, he’s been a great effective leader for Western Massachusetts.”

The race gained national attention in the last few weeks, when the College Democrats of Massachusetts accused Morse of inappropriate behavior with students at UMass Amherst, where he was a lecturer. Morse admitted to having consensual sexual relationships with students who he met on dating apps but denied doing anything improper. Information later came out suggesting that leaders in the College Democrats intentionally tried to smear Morse to help Neal.

Morse, in his concession, mentioned the attacks, saying “these tactics are unacceptable and we deserve better.”

No Republican is running in the district.

Moulton holds 6th District seat

US Rep. Seth Moulton held onto his House seat despite Democratic primary challenges from Jamie Belsito and Angus McQuilkin in the 6th District, which covers the North Shore.

Moulton, 41, is a hard-hitting Marine and Iraq War veteran who has been unafraid to take on the political establishment. He won his House seat in 2014 by defeating scandal-ridden incumbent John Tierney in the Democratic primary. In 2018, he challenged Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s attempt to run for a third term as speaker, backing off only when Pelosi agreed to term-limit herself. He also had a brief and unsuccessful run for the 2020 Democratic nomination for president, but dropped out of the race in August 2019 after failing to gain traction.

Moulton’s challenge of Pelosi and his clear ambition for higher office inspired criticism within his own party, and opened the door to primary challengers.

McQuilken, 50, is a business development executive with a long history of Democratic political activism. He co-founded the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence and worked in public relations for the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center and Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts.

The North of Boston Media Group, which includes several newspapers in the 6th District, had endorsed McQuilken, saying he would bring knowledge, experience and enthusiasm to the seat while Moulton appears to have “already moved on.”

Belsito, 46, worked as a federal lobbyist on immigration issues, a maternal mental health advocate who advocated for women’s health with a focus on postpartum depression, and a Salem State University trustee. She pledged to improve access to education and health care, reform immigration policy and address women’s health issues.

Both challengers criticized Moulton for challenging Pelosi and running for president.

In a statement after his victory, Moulton said he pledged to fight for his country and for what is right. “Sometimes it has meant taking on tough fights, breaking with my party, or questioning our leadership,” Moulton said.

“Change is hard to deliver,” Moulton said. “It takes time. It comes with personal attacks from the critics and naysayers who protect the status quo.” Moulton acknowledged that he “took some heat” for campaigning outside his district. But, he said, “When the future of your country is on the line, you go out and you fight for it.”

The Associated Press called the race for Moulton around 10 p.m. Moulton was leading with 77 percent of the vote, with 17 percent of precincts reporting.

Moulton will face Republican John Paul Moran in the general election.

Incumbent Lynch wins 8th District

US Rep. Stephen Lynch easily fought off a Democratic primary challenge from Robbie Goldstein in the 8th Congressional District, which encompasses sections of Boston, the South Shore and suburbs south and west of Boston.

Lynch, 65, has served in the US House since 2001 and has held political office since 1994, when he was first elected to the state Legislature. He is a quintessential lunch bucket Democrat, a former ironworker and strong union supporter who for many years considered himself pro-life. In the House, he has been active on transportation, financial services and national security issues.

Goldstein, 36, an infectious disease physician at Massachusetts General Hospital who created the hospital’s transgender health program, had positioned himself as a progressive challenger to Lynch in a year when his health care background gives him much-needed expertise. Goldstein supports single-payer health care, wants to end the qualified immunity doctrine that protects the police from lawsuits, and is a strong supporter of abortion rights and gay rights.

Meet the Author

Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

The Associated Press called the race for Lynch around 10:30 p.m. In a district that has long supported the more centrist-leaning Democrat, Lynch received 67 percent of the vote, with 27 percent of precincts reporting.

No Republican candidate is running in the general election.