Sep 1, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Massachusetts Rep. Richard Neal fends off primary challenge


Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Rep. Richard Neal, chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, on Tuesday evening defeated his primary challenger Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse in the Democratic primary for Massachusetts' 1st Congressional District, the AP reports.

Why it matters: It's a victory for the establishment wing of the Democratic Party, which took a hit with the primary defeat of House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (N.Y.) earlier this year. Neal had been targeted for his ties to corporate lobbyists and resistance to progressive policies like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal.

  • Morse, 31, is the first openly gay mayor of the small Massachusetts city, and earned endorsements from progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and the political action committee Justice Democrats, per the Washington Post.
  • Establishment Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, stood behind Neal.

Between the lines: Neal's position chairing the House Ways and Means Committee, a key panel for passing major health care and tax legislation, gives him immense power in Congress.

  • "People will say what they will say, but I know what he has done, and it would be a tremendous loss to that district to lose the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee," Pelosi said at a press conference last week.

Worth noting: The primary turned ugly last month when the University of Massachusetts Amherst chapter of the College Democrats accused Morse, who was an adjunct professor at the school until 2019, of "taking advantage of his position of power for romantic or sexual gain, specifically toward young students."

  • Text messages obtained by The Intercept revealed that the allegations were part of a plan dating back to the previous October to damage Morse's campaign so that one student leader of the group could win an internship with Neal.
  • Leaders of the College Democrats later apologized to Morse and said that its language "played into homophobic stereotypes that have been used to oppress gay men in politics." The Neal campaign denied any collaboration with the group.
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