The latest 2020 primary challenger has emerged in Massachusetts.
Alex Morse, the 30-year-old mayor of Holyoke, announced Monday that he is challenging Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), a 30-year-incumbent representing Massachusetts’ 1st Congressional District, citing a lack of urgency from the established member and his acceptance of corporate PAC money.
“There’s an urgency to this moment in Massachusetts’ First District and our country, and that urgency is not matched by our current representative in Congress,” Morse said in a statement. “The fact is, the Congressman has been largely silent on the issues that matter most. He’s been absent, unaccountable, and unavailable. It’s not just that we need new leadership in Washington. We need new leadership that understands that we can no longer settle for small, incremental, and compromising progress. We need to be on offense. We need to be fighting for something, not just against.”
In his campaign launch video, Morse, Holyoke’s youngest and first openly gay mayor, discusses the city’s revitalization under his leadership, his parents’ struggles with poverty, and his pledge to take no corporate PAC money. Since his election in 2011, at the age of 22, Morse has implemented a needle exchange program to fight the opioid epidemic, become the first mayor in the state to endorse legalizing marijuana, and declared Holyoke a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants.
Neal, 70, who first assumed office in 1989, has long seemed ripe for a primary challenge. Progressives have pointed to his reticence to call for impeachment hearings, his prior support for the Hyde Amendment, and his relationship with lobbyists and special interests as reasons for his potential vulnerability. Neal also reportedly discouraged the use of the phrase “Medicare for All” for a recent hearing on Medicare for All legislation.
Upon becoming chair of the House Ways and Means committee, Neal was faced with immense pressure to immediately subpoena President Trump’s tax returns, which included a campaign from billionaire and liberal activist Tom Steyer, who is now running for president. (Morse reportedly had lunch with Steyer earlier this year.) Neal did so in May, and in early July, the committee filed a lawsuit to enforce the subpoena. But the fact that it took months for any kind of action to occur has irked progressives.
Recently, a bill passed in New York state with the intended purpose of allowing Neal to request state income tax returns, opening up another potential avenue for the chairman. However, he reportedly expressed concern that doing so could undermine the aforementioned suit.
Neal is just the latest established, center-leaning Democrat to face a challenge from a younger, more progressive candidate. Already in 2020, Justice Democrats, the insurgent group that backed Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), has fielded two challengers: one in Texas and another in New York.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) is also staring down multiple primary challengers, as the left has looked to replicate Ocasio-Cortez’s success in other districts in New York. And in Illinois, Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL), a conservative anti-abortion Democrat who narrowly escaped a primary challenge in the last cycle, is facing the same candidate again in Marie Newman.
Just last year, Massachusetts was home to a massive primary upset when Pressley defeated Rep. Mike Capuano (D-MA), who had served for 20 years in the 7th Congressional District, before being elected to the House.