The Big Three: Why these candidates might be the ones to win the MA04 Primary
Former Brookline Select Board Member, Jesse Mermell
Newton City Councilwoman Becky Grossman
Newton City Councilman Jake Auchincloss
It is getting very close to the primary, and there is no clear front runner. The race to replace Joe Kennedy III's vacant seat in the 4th congressional district has had many twists and turns throughout the year, ranging from high profile endorsements, criticism over past comments, accusations over "dark money", and more stories that could make your head spin. Yet, the one thing that this race has not been able to produce is a first place candidate. The eight Democrats, all hailing from the northern half of the district, have been making a final push this week to get their names and excitement out into the public. This has resulted in "street canvassing" across the district from Needham to Attleboro, investing in Super PACs for funding, and in one candidate's case, purchasing ads in newspapers. So with all that said, out of all the candidates in the Democratic primary, who has the best chance?
If you had to ask me, I believe the race for first place is currently between three candidates. Newton City Councilman Jake Auchincloss, Newton City Councilwoman Becky Grossman, and former Brookline Select Board member, Jesse Mermell. These three candidates have managed to gain the most traction throughout this race, each with their own strengths and with their own struggles. While it is unlikely that any of these candidates are winning this race in a landslide, I do believe that these "big three" candidates are in the most comfortable position to win, period.
THE MAN WITH HIS OWN LANE:
When you are running in a race with 7 other candidates, it would be quite hard to establish your own political lane. You have to not only define yourself in a way that separates you from the the other participants, but you have to establish an argument of why you are the best choice compared to your rivals. Despite the daunting task, Newton City Councilman Jake Auchincloss has found a good amount of success in attempting this challenge. A former Marine and a young father, Auchincloss has presented a to voters a campaign that emphasizes experience and leadership that he has acquired over the years, saying that those qualities out weight a campaign based on personality. While the other candidates have tried to outshine each other by trying to be the most progressive or appealing they can be towards liberal voters, Auchincloss took his own path, reaching out to more center left and non affiliated voters.
One of the ways the Councilman has made his appeal to said voters is by focusing on the southern part of the district in the city of Fall River. Voters in this area are not as heavily focused on social issues compared to Brookline and Newton in the north, but rather fiscal issues, such as the development of the South Coast Rail Project or sustainable jobs. In a statement to Ted Nesi at WPRI channel 12, Auchincloss said that, “We’ve got serious work to do to make sure that we have a green economic recovery, to make sure that health care is a human right, to make sure that local budgets are not hit hard in these next two fiscal years,” Despite his lurch towards the center, that does not mean Auchincloss isn't staunch on several liberal policies. He has come out in support for gun control as well as "green transport."
However he still faces scrutiny despite being quite liberal. The City Councilman used to be a former Republican who voted and worked for the Baker administration, and has made comments on social media regarding harsh comments towards a flag burning event by Pakistani officials, suggesting that Americans should have the right to "burn their book." Auchincloss's past is his greatest weakness, and could very well turn away active Democratic voters, who usually participate the most in primaries.
A MOTHER ON A MISSION:
Staying on message is key when running a campaign. It helps define who you are, what your policies are, and why you are running in the first place. Newton City Councilwoman Becky Grossman has done quite an accomplished job staying on message. Grossman, a self described "mother on a mission" has built her political career on working for different families within Massachusetts, focusing on policies that would affect children and their parents. This has ranged from calls for access to affordable childcare, lowering drug prices for parents and children who need them, and probably, her most aggressive stance, gun control.
In her first televised ad back in July, Grossman discussed her fears of sending her son, Jack Grossman to school everyday as she worries that due to the high frequency of school shootings. Grossman has vowed to "get money out of the NRA" in several interviews and forums and is proud of having this as a centerpiece message in her campaign. It isn't a bad idea to have this as a main message either, as many residents of both northern and southern MA04 are parents of young children, and would be attracted to the message that Grossman has presented.
Despite fighting for mothers across America, Grossman is also laser focused on another issue as of late, that being voting accessibility. In August, Grossman shook the foundation in the MA04 race by filing a lawsuit against the Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth to ensure that all ballots are postmarked by September 1st. This has gained support from several individuals and groups such as MassVote, the ACLU, The Boston Globe, and even Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. This is seen as a strong political maneuver as this would shift attention to Grossman in the final week of the race, possibly getting more people to vote for her.
The move also attempts to shore up Grossman's weakness: recognition. While Grossman has received several endorsements and a good amount of funding in the race, she has often struggled for name recognition, especially at the start. of the campaign. When you have 7 other candidates, that can be quite tough, so hopefully for her, this can be the break she needs to get herself known.
THE LAW OF MERMENTUM: It's often said that the best campaigns are the ones that can keep a steady pace. Consistency in support and gains in support are the best ways campaigns can grow, adapt, and eventually win. And it's very clear that this consistency is an enormous asset in the campaign of Jesse Mermell.
A Pennsylvania native, Mermell has quite the work resume in terms of service, including working under Attorney General Maura Healey, and being part of the Brookline Select Board. Mermell, like her rivals, has run a progressive based campaign, believing that it is time to transition to Medicare for All, supports the Green and Blue New Deals, and has proposed redirections of police funds to other programs such as education. While typical for any Democratic candidate in this race, what makes Mermell such as juggernaut is her long long LONG list of endorsements. In what feels like an endorsement a day, the former select board member has managed to compile support from across the entire district and across the state. This has ranged from state senators such as Paul Feeney of Attleboro, and Becca Rausch of Needham, state auditor Suzanne Bump, former MA04 candidate Dave Cavell, the NARAL organization, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, Representative Ayanna Pressley, and quite possibly the highest ranking endorsement of this race so far, her former boss, Attorney General Maura Healey. Many viewers of this race, including Dave Wasserman have seen Mermell as a favorite in this competition, and many supporters of her campaign have aptly titled this momentum, "mermentum."
Cute name aside, these endorsements do help voters figure out who is a good candidate, but it can only go so far. Mermell's kryptonite is her lack of funding as she has struggled to raise much money in this race compared to her opponents. She has relied on virtual advertisments and has only released one tv ad in the race so far. Still, money isn't everything, and having this momentum throughout the campaign could be beneficial.
Now, just because I said that these three are the top dogs in this primary doesn't mean they will win! There are 5 other candidates after all and two of them might pull a surprise out of nowhere. These two candidates are CityYear Co Founder Alan Khazei, and Dr. Natalina Linos. Both candidates have been trying to break into the top three and have found some niches that could help them in the end. Khazei is well known in MA politics and has raised a good amount of money based on his message of service in city year as well as support from other political big names such as Ambassador Susan Rice, and Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado. Linos meanwhile is a breakout star of this race, starting off late but managing to build a strong coalition of young and progressive voters by touting her experience as a social epidemiologist in a time of a pandemic. These two should be watched closely.
But at the end of the day, the real winner of the MA04 primary will be the need for ranked choice voting. With so many candidates in a race with no polling or attention, it seems unfathomable that anyone would want to go through this again. But when it comes to the top tier, these three candidates I mentioned above could very well be the one to be the next representative for the 4th congressional district. So strap in folks, because this week is going to be a long one.