Massachusetts 4th: That OTHER Primary on September 1st
If by chance you had to ask a person in Massachusetts what the biggest election in their commonwealth is aside from the presidential, they would probably say the Senate primary. Massachusetts citizens and political figures were surprised when Congressman Joe Kennedy declared a primary challenge against Senator Edward Markey in September of 2019. This of course sparked a national frenzy amongst Democratic voters, causing a swath of articles to be written about this race within the bay state.
This article is not about this race.
No, instead this article will be diving into a different election in Massachusetts that will take place on the first of September: the 4th congressional district race.
THE FOURTH DISTRICT: HISTORY AND COMPOSITION
The 4th Congressional District of Massachusetts is a serpent shaped district that contains 34 towns and cities. This district stretches from the southern suburbs of Boston, all the way down to south shore areas bordering the state of Rhode Island.
In the 1970’s the district looked more horizontal, stretching from Brookline into Gardner, composing of liberal voters in the bigger city areas, and moderate conservative voters in the suburban areas such as Weston and Wayland. This district was held by Rep. Robert F. Drinan (D) — a Jesuit priest, until 1981 in which he was succeeded by Barney Frank. Following the 1980 Census, Massachusetts lost a congressional district, so the 4th District obtained a decent amount of towns and cities from the much more Republican friendly 10th district, giving Frank a close election win against Margaret Heckler.
In the 2003–2013 map, the district expanded into Plymouth County, an area with blue collar voters who tend to lean more right. The 2010 election was even closer for Frank, as his Republican challenger, Sean Bielat found strong support among Plymouth’s blue collar voters. Nevertheless, Frank did win with the help of high turn out from the affluent voters in the Brookline-Newton area and in the cities in the south such as Fall River and Taunton.
Today the 4th district remains mostly the same (thanks to Frank’s influence) with some slight differences. Most of the Plymouth County towns have been moved towards the 9th District, hurting Republicans ability to rally blue collar voters. The district also has moved westward a bit, obtaining MetroWest affluent voters that have been somewhat helpful for Kennedy.
Democrats have two strongholds in this district to help give them victories. The first stronghold is the Brookline-Newton area in the north, where more progressive issues such as climate change and healthcare help drive out voters. The second stronghold is the Fall River area in the south. While voters do acknowledge that these are important issues as well, they are not as progressive as their northern neighbors. These are blue collar voters who place a priority on economic issues such as union support and wages. Republicans do have some support in suburban towns in the middle of the district such as Dover or Norfolk and in towns surrounding the southern cities with low income voters. Yet due to the turn out machine in the aforementioned Democratic areas combined with a declining brand in the suburbs makes it hard for the GOP to make headway in the district.
THE 2020 RACE: WHERE IT STANDS AND WHAT STRATEGIES ARE BEING DEPLOYED:
With Joe Kennedy III’s decision to run for Senate and not run for re-election, Massachusetts 4th has become a gold mine for politicians. On average, the district has around two to three candidates running in the primaries on both sides of the political isle. This remains true on the Republican Party’s end as only former Attleboro City Councilwoman Julie Hall and Veteran David Rosa of Dighton are running for their party’s nomination.
On the Democratic side, it is a very crowded race with nine candidates. They are as follows: Lawyer and activist Ben Sigel, former Brookline Select Board member Jesse Mermell, Wall Street Regulator Isshane Leckey, tech entrepreneur Chis Zannetos, epidemiologist Natalia Linos, former Obama speech writer and Maura Healy alumni Dave Cavell, former CEO of CityYear Alan Khazei, and two Newton City Council Members, Jake Auchincloss and Becky Grossman. All of these candidates hail from the more liberal northern part of the district, with eight of them being from Brookline and Zannetos being from Wellesley.
just looking at where these candidates are from, you can imply where the strengths of each party lays and which voters they need to drum up support from. For Democrats, the big cities and suburban towns at the northern and southern end of the district and for Republicans, the towns and suburbs in the middle of the district. With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic however, it is difficult for these candidates to travel and gain votes in a traditional manner. Candidates have turned towards new virtual methods of campaigning, such as live streams, virtual roundtables, online canvassing and other unorthodox methods being tried out in each campaign. Despite the different ways to campaign during a pandemic, one most also observe and analyze the outreach of each party and what each candidate is trying to accomplish.
To begin with, all nine Democratic candidates are incredibly similar in policy. All support a green economy, gun control, lowering or capping student debt, etc. All of which are incredibly popular in the progressive Brookline-Newton area of the district. Some candidates such as Jesse Mermell, Isshane Leckey and Natalia Linos have even expressed support for Medicare For All, hoping to gain youth support from college student voters. Alan Khazei also has made an attempt to reach out to younger voters by stressing their importance of being the leaders in the fight against COVID-19 and other issues pressing the country. In an interview with Wheaton College Radio, Khazei stated to me that, “Young people are the best to do this because they are more diverse, they understand technology, and you need the people to gain the confidence to the people that they are talking to.”
Other candidates have tried to make inroads with the Brookline-Newton voters by connecting with the large Jewish community there. Ben Sigel has made his faith of Judaism a centerpiece of his campaign hoping to tie it with his advocacy of civil rights. Sigel has stated that “I was the only candidate from the beginning talking about the civil injustices within our system in this race and I have seen it first hand as a jewish kid growing up.” Dave Cavell, another Jewish candidate also uses his faith as a piece in his campaign, as he hosts virtual Friday Night Shabbat services to have kitchen table discussions towards voters.
The appeal towards the progressive youths and affluent white collar voters in the Brookline-Newton area is only one half of the equation for Democrats, as they need also need to connect with the more blue collar union voters of the Fall River area. Although it may seem tricky as none of the nine Democrats are from this region, some have made inroads in finding their support down there.
Khazei for example occasionally promotes local eateries and unions in the cities of Taunton and Easton, two crucial Democratic areas that focus on fiscal issues over social issues. Jake Auchincloss, the candidate with the highest fundraising as of now, has made transportation a centerpiece of his campaign. Transportation is crucial for both Fall River and the Brookline-Newton area as they are commuting hubs for two cities, Providence and Boston. Auchincloss also currently has the most union endorsements, an important voting bloc in Fall River.
Chris Zannetos has also tried an unorthodox way of campaigning in this area by going to local businesses in real time and promoting them, even in a time of economic hardship. This “Tour of the 4th” as Zannetos calls it focuses on the fiscal issues Southern Fourth District Democrats put a priority on over, hoping to bridge the gap between North 4th district and South 4th district. Nevertheless it is an interesting strategy to raise awareness of businesses, and a charming way of making voters feel as if they are heard.
Compared to the nine Democratic candidates that are attempting different strategies to be noticed by voters, Republican outreach is rather minimum in the district election. David Rosa is no stranger to running in this district, as he has participated twice. Once as an Independent in 2012 and once as a Republican in 2016. Rosa lost both of these elections to Joe Kennedy III, only earning 3% in 2012 and 29.8% in 2016. Nevertheless, name recognition can be beneficial for any candidate, and due to one of his key platform policies being “supporting Donald Trump” it could drum up hardcore Republican support in the primary in towns like Rehoboth, Norton, and his home town of Dighton; all areas that voted for Trump in 2016.
Although beyond support of the President, his platform is rather shallow, as his campaign website only has an image of his campaign filing form. Not to mention, support for Trump in the 2016 while strong in these towns, was not strong in Bristol County as a whole, only giving the president 41.08% of the vote to Hillary Clinton’s 50.47%, suggesting having a “pro Trump platform” might not get you far, even in the more conservative counties of Massachusetts.
Former Attleboro City Councilwoman Julie Hall is a different story. Much like Rosa, Hall comes from the middle of the district, but unlike Rosa, she comes from Attleboro, a city that leans a bit more left than Dighton. Hall is much more detailed in her policies, calling for less Government regulations in how the commonwealth reopens during the pandemic, support for military spending, and promising not to sign legislation for more firearm regulations. All standard Republican policies liked across the spectrum of her party.
There are two noticeable factors about her campaign that separate her from Rosa and many other Massachusetts Republicans. The first is that there is no statement of support or denouncement of Donald Trump, leaving him out of the conversation of the campaign. This could be a way to attract more affluent GOP suburban voters who had moved away from the party due to the President.
The second is support for renewable and green energy, again going against the typical Republican playbook of not focusing on the issue. However, the Solarize Mass project, a project spearheaded by Republican Governor Charlie Baker still remains popular, and perhaps in an attempt to align herself with the Governor and his popular climate initiative, she too is calling for a greener Massachusetts along with her Democratic rivals. It also helps that Baker himself is incredibly popular in the state, winning Bristol and Norfolk County voted for Baker in similar margins, with the former county giving him 70.8% of the vote and the latter county giving him 69.1% of the vote, almost similar margins. Aligning herself with the Governor could pay off for her in the primary.
WHOS WINNING? ITS UNCLEAR.
Despite several different strategies and tactics deployed by these candidates it is still unclear who is currently leading and where they are most favored in the district. Two weeks ago, candidate Becky Grossman released an internal campaign poll, and while it did show her leading with 13%, a whopping 60% of voters are still undecided. As for Republican voters, we have no polls or fundraising data, so it is still in the dark on who is leading in that primary.
Despite the lack of clarity, the goal for each party’s candidates is clear. For Republicans, turn out the affluent and low income voters in the middle of the district, and for Democrats, charge the turn out machines in the Brookline-Newton area in the north and the Fall River area in the south.
While many townies and out of staters may have their eyes glued on the General Election and the Senate Primary, this is a race that should not be overlooked. After all, when are you going to get a chance to see an 11 person race in a Massachusetts district again?