BOSTON — Ayanna Pressley is attempting one of toughest political feats in Massachusetts — persuading Democratic voters to reject a longtime incumbent during a primary.
Making the task even more difficult? Pressley has acknowledged she’d likely vote much the same way as incumbent U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano.
The race has drawn comparisons to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s defeat of 10-term New York Rep. Joe Crowley in a Democratic primary in June. Pressley — who would become the first black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts — counts Ocasio-Cortez a friend.
There are big differences between the campaigns.
Ocasio-Cortez is a 28-year-old political novice, while Pressley is a 44-year-old veteran of the Democratic Party. She served as former Secretary of State John Kerry’s political director when he was a U.S. senator and became the first black woman elected to the Boston City Council in 2009.
“Our campaign is meeting head-on the challenge and the charge that we were given as Democrats coming out of 2016, and that is to ignite the electorate and to expand it,” Pressley said.
Another difference is that Capuano isn’t taking Pressley’s challenge lightly. The 66-year-old has been campaigning hard, reeling in endorsements and pointing to a 20-year-record he said shows he’s championed the priorities of one of the state’s most liberal districts.
“Right now, we’re in the fight of our lives with Donald Trump. I think I’ve proven over many years that I’m an effective fighter for the issues that the district wants —Social Security, Medicare, housing,” said Capuano, listing groups that have given him a 100 percent rating, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, the ALF-CIO and Planned Parenthood.
More than any single issue, he said what’s driving voters is “a general feeling that Donald Trump is attacking everything we care about.”
The district’s demographics could be key to Tuesday’s primary.
When state lawmakers drew new House districts after the last federal census, they tapped the 7th district to be the first in Massachusetts where minorities make up a majority of the voting population.
Capuano, who is white, said he’s worked on behalf of everyone in the district, which includes parts of Boston, Cambridge, Somerville and other communities. Capuano, a former Somerville mayor, is banking on voters who have supported him for decades while also appealing to new voters.
Pressley has a base of support in Boston and is working to expand the number of voters who make it to the polls, hoping a robust “get out the vote” drive could tip the election.
Pressley is also banking on deep voter anger with President Trump, mixed with a desire for new party leaders.
“The hate that is coming out of this White House will not be defeated by a reliable vote on the floor of Congress,” Pressley said. “The hate coming out of this White House will be defeated by a movement and by a coalition.”
Another wild card is the primary’s timing on Sept. 4, the day after Labor Day, when many residents are returning from vacations.
On Sunday, Pressley won the endorsement of The Boston Globe, the region’s largest newspaper. The paper pointed to her efforts to overhaul the way the city distributes liquor licenses, particularly to poorer and minority communities. They said Pressley represents “the future of the Democratic Party.”
The next day, Democratic Rep. Joseph Kennedy, grandson of former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, said he’d be campaigning with Capuano in Boston. Kennedy called Capuano “a guy who won’t shy away from steep odds or tough truths.”
Days earlier, Capuano was joined on the campaign trail by Democratic Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. Pressley has the backing of the state’s Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey.
The state’s highest-profile Democrat — U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren — has steered clear of the primary. Neither Pressley nor Capuano has committed to supporting Nancy Pelosi for speaker should Democrats retake the House.
The race is tugging voters in both directions.
Frank Hekel and Nicole Curran are both designers living in the South End neighborhood of Boston. Hekel, 50, said he first met Capuano when he was mayor of Somerville.
“I feel like having met him and known him a little bit I feel loyal to him,” Hekel said. “If Ayanna wins, great. But Mike seems like he’s doing a great job.”
Curran, 49, is pulling for Pressley.
“I think she has a unique perspective and I’m excited to see more diversity in our politics,” Curran said.
Capuano had about $750,000 in his campaign account as of Aug. 15. Pressley had $131,000.
The last time an incumbent Democratic House member lost a primary was in 2014, when Seth Moulton defeated former Rep. John Tierney, who brought significant personal baggage to the campaign.
There are no Republican candidates.