Our Opinion: After dramatic primaries, focus shifts to November


Primary elections are generally sleepy affairs in Massachusetts, but not this past Tuesday. In the Berkshires and in Boston, voters shook the local landscape, setting the stage for a general election that may contain more surprises.

The Berkshire election that shook up the status quo was, of course, for Berkshire district attorney, where attorney Andrea Harrington defeated incumbent Paul Caccaviello. All three candidates were Democrats in what is at least nominally an apolitical race, but it was the progressive Democrats who have been energized since Donald Trump was elected president and are impatient with the party establishment who got behind Ms. Harrington and carried her to a narrow victory over Mr. Caccaviello.

The national news out of Massachusetts came from the 7th Congressional District, where Ayanna Pressley defeated veteran incumbent congressman Michael Capuano in the Democratic primary. It was billed as an upset, and while the defeat of a Democratic incumbent in Massachusetts has to be defined as such, it was hardly a shocker. The district, which includes large chunks of Boston, Somerville and Cambridge, has changed dramatically during Mr. Capuano's 20 years in office, and is now largely minority. Ms. Pressley, an African-American woman, rode a coalition of minorities, women and progressives to an easy victory.

Involved in Democratic politics since her college days, Ms. Pressley, a Boston city councilor, was obviously going places politically — she just arrived ahead of schedule. The time turned out to be right for her and wrong for Mr. Capuano, as simply being a good Democrat is not enough for many liberals who want a revolution akin to the one from the angry right that put Mr. Trump in the White House.

On the surface, Democratic Rep. Richard Neal faced a similar dynamic in his race with Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, but the circumstances were actually quite different. Unlike the 7th Congressional, the 1st Congressional District hasn't change dramatically over the years. There are more minorities, but in general, the district has mostly grown smaller in population. While Ms. Amatul-Wadud ran a good race, she didn't have the political experience Ms. Pressley has, and it showed. If she gains that experience, she could be a formidable political force in the future.

On Beacon Hill, two key members of House Speaker Robert DeLeo's leadership team, Assistant Majority Leader Byron Rushing and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jeffrey Sanchez, lost to progressive opponents from Boston's Hispanic community. There were local issues in play, but state progressives frustrated with the House's rejection of or refusal to consider legislation from the more liberal state Senate supported the two challengers.

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The dumping of two members of his leadership term was more than a shot across the speaker's bow — it was direct hit.

Speaker DeLeo ran unopposed, and there is no reason to believe his district — Winthrop and Revere — would ever turn him out of office, given his influence. That's their business, but his successful strong-arming of lawmakers to end term limits for speaker is everybody's business.

The defeats of Capuano, Sanchez and Rushing show why there is no need for term limits in general elections, but term limits are necessary for leadership positions. Berkshire towns will never get to vote on Mr. DeLeo, but his decisions on what is and is not voted on can impact Berkshire voters. Dissatisfaction with the speaker's immunity from most state voters may have played a role in the defeat of his two teammates.

Up to now, these battles in the state have largely been within the Democratic Party, but that changes this fall when Republican Governor Charlie Baker takes on Democratic challenger Jay Gonzalez, and Democrats holding four constitutional offices confront Republican foes.

The high-profile fight is for U.S. Senate, as incumbent Democrat Elizabeth Warren faces state Rep. Geoff Diehl, a strong supporter of President Trump.

When Republican Scott Brown won a special election following the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy, overconfident Democrats realized that "Kennedy's seat" was not automatically theirs forever. Ms. Warren ran an aggressive campaign two years later and defeated Brown, whose ability to win independent votes led him to his initial victory.

In a state where the president has high disapproval ratings, it seems unlikely that Mr. Diehl will be able to do the same, but he will attract considerable PAC money with the goal of taking the steam out of a possible presidential bid by Ms. Warren, even if Mr. Diehl loses. For better or worse, the national media spotlight will be shining on this race and Massachusetts this fall.


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