Our Opinion: Neal gets challenge from Democratic left

Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, who made history when elected at 22 to lead his home city, will try to make history again by challenging a powerful committee chairman and the dean of the state's Congressional delegation, U.S Rep. Richard Neal, in the 2020 election.

For the second consecutive election, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, whose 1st Congressional District includes the Berkshires, will receive a primary challenge from the Democratic Party's restive left. Alex Morse, the youthful four-term mayor of Holyoke, is the latest Democrat to take on an establishment figure by declaring that "it is time for change."

Rep. Neal faced a challenge from the left two years ago from Tahirah Amatul-Wadud of Springfield, whose bid was undermined by her lack of political experience. In contrast, the precocious Mr. Morse, 30, was elected mayor at the age of 22, defeating a veteran incumbent in the process, and can boast of eight years of experience in a position his opponent held in Springfield early in his political career.

The veteran Rep. Neal became chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee when the Democrats regained control of the House in 2018, and he has achieved national prominence through his efforts to force President Trump to release his tax returns, most recently through a lawsuit. Mr. Morse, who officially announced his candidacy Monday night, anticipated the argument that the district shouldn't vote out a powerful tenured congressman by asking in a campaign press release, "What good is that power if it's not helping us here at home?" and promising the "people-focused service" he accuses the incumbent of failing to provide.

The Holyoke mayor will go after Mr. Neal on his close connections to corporate interests and lobbyists, which is reflected in his campaign donations. Mr. Neal has argued and will again that he is not beholden to these donors, he abides by campaign laws, and will not unilaterally disarm when the Republican Party is aggressively raising funds. The incumbent congressman, however, rarely if ever gets a serious Republican challenger, and his connections and deep campaign war chest are a potential vulnerability that Mr. Morse will attempt to exploit. Mr. Morse will also make age an issue in his campaign, as he notes in his press release that he was born a few days after Rep. Neal took office in 1989.

Mr. Morse will be a decided underdog in this race, but congressional upsets in 2018 have given hope to political underdogs. The Democratic primary victory two years ago in Massachusetts' 7th congressional district of Ayanna Pressley, who defeated 10-term incumbent Michael Capuano, was a game-changer. Ms. Pressley, one of the four-member "squad" of liberal Democratic women of color told to go back where they came from by President Trump (she's from Boston), has quickly achieved national prominence, which hasn't gone unnoticed by liberal Democrats impatient with their party's seniority system.

No election should go uncontested, certainly not a congressional one. If Republicans won't challenge Rep. Neal than Democrats should, and we look forward to a good, issue-oriented race for Congress in the 1st Congressional District.