What does Ayanna Pressley know that we don’t?

This being Super Bowl week, pigskin-related analogies are everywhere. In that vein, we’re focused on the special teams warning about outkicking the coverage. That’s where a punter or kicker sends the ball far down the field but at a distance that allows the receiving team to set up a return and thwart defenders.

Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, who on Tuesday announced her intention to challenge veteran US Rep. Michael Capuano in the Democratic primary for the 7th Congressional district seat, looks like she outkicked her coverage. While a run for the Senate seat being vacated by Linda Dorcena Forry, or even an open congressional seat, would be considered normal progression, Pressley has boomed an 80-yard punt down the field and doesn’t appear to be in position to defend the kick.

And it raises a question many will ask once the shock begins to settle: What does Pressley know that the cognoscenti does not?

On the surface, Pressley’s challenge looks not only quixotic but potentially wrought with self-inflicted wounds. When an unknown Seth Moulton challenged then-US Rep. John Tierney, the Democratic establishment was less-than-pleased someone would soften up an incumbent for a potential fall in the general election, despite Tierney’s embattled family life that was spilling into the public sphere.

But Capuano is not carrying the baggage Tierney was dragging and, in fact, is quite popular not only with the party muckety mucks, but in his district as well. And, unlike the Tierney race, where Richard Tisei was waiting in the wings to pounce, the Pressley-Capuano contest will likely be winner-take-all in the seat once held by “Tip” O’Neill and which gave Hillary Clinton 80 percent of the vote in 2016.

Politico’s Lauren Dezenski got a look at Pressley’s internal numbers and they  were encouraging enough to push the five-term councilor to run. First and foremost is the fact the district is the state’s only minority-majority district, where 56 percent of the voters are non-white.

Dezenski also reports that while Capuano has a “’significant lead over a generic Democrat,” the gap drops to 7 points as people learn more about Pressley, the first woman of color elected to the City Council. The internal numbers also show Pressley with an 11 percent unfavorable rate.

But what the Pressley folks didn’t show Dezenski, apparently, are the other numbers. While 11 percent is a number to dream about, it means little without knowing how many people “don’t know” who Pressley is. And while the gap shrinks as people learn more about Pressley, you have to believe those same voters being polled are not given much information about Capuano.

Pressley is challenging someone who is as progressive on issues as she is and who has been considered an ally of minorities throughout his tenure. It’s tough to see how replacing a veteran lawmaker with seniority helps her cause. In the House, seniority matters. As does the more than three-quarters of a million dollars that Capuano starts with in his campaign account.

The logistics of voting are not conducive to a Pressley victory, either. The primary this year is being held on Sept. 4, the day after Labor Day. Few expect a robust turnout that day and studies indicate low voter turnout favors incumbents. While Pressley’s camp pushes the numbers showing her visibility rises as people know more about her, incumbents also rise or fall in what observers call “high information” elections, according to a 2009 Princeton study. And Capuano, as vocal an opponent of President Trump as there is in the state, gets the benefit of the doubt from progressive voters in Cambridge, Somerville, Everett, and Chelsea.

Pressley’s resume and mentoring is impressive, including her stints on the staffs of former US Sen. John Kerry and former US Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II, the father of the current 3rd Congressional District representative. But it’s unlikely any party elder will tip the scales in her favor over a longtime party stalwart.

For Pressley, it is, at least electorally, a low-risk proposition coming as it does in an off-year election for the city. And while it will help raise her profile for future runs should she lose, it will make state party officials wonder just what her reasoning is.

Many party officials often say robust challenges are good for the soul, the voters, and the democratic process. But few mean it. But it does raise the most important of questions: What does Pressley know that we don’t?



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