A No-Nonsense Guide to the Mass. Primary Elections

A who's who of Congressional hopefuls across the state.

It’s no secret that Massachusetts loves its incumbents. However, the Democratic Party is changing—and as the party’s agenda has shifted further to the left, some are starting to wonder if it’s time to see some fresh faces representing the Bay State in Washington. Progressives are making a splash on the national stage, and local lefties—perhaps emboldened by Ayanna Pressley’s daring primary victory over established incumbent Mike Capuano last year—are taking note. Who’s thrown their hats in the ring so far? Everyone from memoirists to social justice activists to tech entrepreneurs to video gamers. Here’s your guide to all the Congressional hopefuls who have declared their candidacy so far, and the politicians they’re hoping to unseat.

Jump to a lawmaker:
Sen. Ed Markey
Rep. Richard Neal
Rep. Jim McGovern
Rep. Joe Kennedy III
Rep. Seth Moulton
Rep. Steve Lynch

The Incumbent: U.S. Senator Ed Markey

Represents: Massachusetts

First elected to Senate in: 2014

Running for reelection? Yes.

Challenger: Shannon Liss Riordan

Currently: A partner at Boston law firm Lichten & Liss-Riordan.

Known for: Leading high-profile workers’ rights cases against corporate giants like Starbucks, Harvard, American Airlines, and most famously, Uber.

How she’s standing out: Liss-Riordan is positioning herself as the “sledgehammer” to the status quo, citing her litigation record as proof of her commitment to women and working class families.  A political outsider, she isn’t afraid to be bold where the 73-year-old incumbent has balked—Liss-Riordan has called for the repeal of the Second Amendment while Markey still advocates for “common-sense” gun legislation, and she is in favor of impeaching the president, a move that Markey stops just short of.

Challenger: Steve Pemberton

Update: As of October 14, Pemberton has dropped out of the race, saying he ran into “an impenetrable wall of legacy and birthright.”  

Currently:  A corporate executive turned author turned motivational speaker.

Known for: The New Bedford native is a BC grad and business whiz, with a résumé of executive-level roles at corporations like Walgreens and Monster.com. You may also know him by his memoir, A Chance in the World.

How he’s standing out: From a policy perspective, the differences between Pemberton and Markey are fairly minor: Pemberton supports impeachment of Trump while Markey does not, but Markey has been more vocal than Pemberton in supporting progressive policies like the Green New Deal and Medicare for All. The big difference between the two candidates, Pemberton says, is that his lived experiences could bring a new and valuable perspective to the Senate that Markey cannot replicate. The child of an interracial couple, Pemberton lost his mother to alcoholism and his father to gun violence, and lived the majority of his childhood in foster homes, where he faced abuse. Unlike Markey, Pemberton knows “first-hand what it is like to be one of the people Washington has forgotten,” according to his campaign website.

“I don’t see this race as a choice between me and Ed Markey,” Pemberton says. “His legacy and his commitment is an honorable one and has been an important one. At the same time, here in Massachusetts, we are aware of the time for a new generation and new voices who come with a very different set of expectations and, in my case, a different set of life experiences.”

Challenger: Rep. Joe Kennedy III

Currently:  Massachusetts’ 4th District representative.

Known for: Since his election in 2012, Kennedy has had several standout moments on the Congressional floor and was tapped to deliver the State of the Union response in 2018. While his voting record has been very similar to Markey’s, Kennedy has taken special interest in LGBT+ rights and mental health advocacy.

How he’s standing out: Because Kennedy is so ideologically similar to Markey, he seems to be building his case on the fact that he is young, exciting, and disruptive of the status quo. It’s unclear why exactly the 38-year-old chose to challenge Markey for his seat, but both his supporters and dissenters can agree that the move is unconventional—Kennedy is violating the understanding that lawmakers are expected to put in time at lower levels before making grabs at more prestigious posts, as Markey himself did. Perhaps this move is meant to demonstrate that Kennedy can instigate large-scale generational change, unlike his older, rule-following opponent.

The Incumbent: Representative Richard Neal

Represents: Massachusetts’ 1st District, which includes Springfield, West Springfield, Pittsfield, Holyoke, and Westfield.

First elected to the House in: 1988

Running for reelection? TBD.

Challenger: Alex Morse

Currently: The mayor of Holyoke.

Known for: Defeating an incumbent and taking on the role of mayor straight out of college, at age 22.  He’s also the first openly gay person to serve in the role.

How he’s standing out: Rep. Neal has found himself at odds with progressives over the past year: As chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, the 70-year-old was slow to request Donald Trump’s tax returns, and he has also drawn criticism for his moderate approach to taxes and healthcare and his acceptance of corporate donations. Morse, on the other hand, is a vocal supporter of progressive policies—he was the first Massachusetts mayor to endorse legalizing recreational marijuana, and even suggested Holyoke could become a hub for the cannabis industry—and he is refusing to take any money from corporate PACs.

The Incumbent: Representative Jim McGovern

Represents: Massachusetts’ 2nd District, which includes Worcester.

First elected to the House in: 1996

Running for reelection? Yes.

Challenger: Summer Miller

Watch Guhbye, Saynta Mawnicuh Drim from CinemaBun on www.twitch.tv

Update: As of August 23, Miller has indicated she is suspending her campaign, saying “The longer this goes on, the more I feel like it’s not the right thing for me.”

Currently: A Twitch streamer and a member of a band called “Coney Island Disco Palace.”

How she’s standing out: Miller’s campaign strategy is certainly…unconventional. She doesn’t seem to have a campaign video or website, and is primarily getting the word out about her campaign through streams on the website Twitch, where users can chat with others while playing video games. “I…want to know what your campaign strategy is, you’ve been at this for a month and you have no fliers, no website, no campaign staff and you live in a pretty large district that’s going to require you to travel a lot,” a user by the name of geass_railfan_titan asks in Miller’s most recent stream, seen above. “I mean, yeah, you’re right,” Miller responds, while playing the video game “Life is Strange.” “My campaign strategy is knocking on doors and sh*t.” 

The Incumbent: Representative Joe Kennedy III

Represents: Massachusetts’ 4th district, which includes most of Plymouth county and the south coast.

First elected to the House in: 2012

Running for reelection? No, he has challenged Ed Markey for Senate instead.

Challenger: Becky Walker Grossman

Currently: A Newton city councilor and former prosecutor.

Known for: A Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School grad, Grossman was formerly the assistant district attorney for Middlesex county. She is also the daughter-in-law of former state treasurer and national DNC chairman Steve Grossman.

How she’s standing out: Grossman is focusing her platform on gun control, climate change, and prescription drug prices. In her announcement video, Grossman says these issues are of particular interest to her as a mother of young children.

“I think it’s the lens I’m looking at issues through: being a mom and the importance of safeguarding the future of our kids,” she told the Globe. “Our country is on fire, and good, logical people need to step up to work together and make progress on the issues that we all care about.”

Challenger: Alan Khazei

Currently: A Harvard Law School grad, nonprofit leader, and co-founder of City Year.

Known for: You may have heard Khazei’s name before for a number of reasons: his spots on numerous non-profit boards, his work with the 2017 Boston Women’s March, his appearances on US News and World Report‘s America’s 25 Best Leaders or the Globe’s 11 Bostonians Changing the World lists, or his unsuccessful Senate campaigns in 2010 and 2012.

How he’s standing out: Khazei cites his résumé of decades of nonprofit work as tangible proof of his commitment to creating lasting social change. Additionally, he has highlighted that he is a political outsider who has “never taken a dime of PAC money or catered to a party boss.” As the son of an Iranian immigrant, Khazei has also emphasized his passion for immigration reform.

 Challenger: Ihssane Leckey

Currently: Before leaving her job to work on her campaign, Leckey was a Federal Reserve special examiner and a prolific racial and social justice activist.

Known for: Being an outspoken advocate for women and immigrants. Leckey, who herself immigrated to the U.S. from Morocco at age 20, has spoken freely about how her immigration story informs her platform. “I always had this idea that the U.S. is the land of the free, the US is where I will have that safety, and where I will have the equal opportunity,” she told DigBoston. “There were more opportunities than where I was in Morocco, but there were not equal opportunities. I came and became poor again.”

How she’s standing out: As a Democratic Socialist, Leckey told NBC Boston that she would embrace issues like Medicare for All, free public college, and the Green New Deal with more vigor than Kennedy has historically.

“I believe he added his name [to the Green New Deal],” Leckey tells NBC. “There’s a big difference between leading a movement and adding a name.”

Challenger: Jesse Mermell

Currently: Prior to resigning to focus on her campaign, Mermell was president of the Alliance for Business Leadership.

Known for: Her work with the Alliance, but also her stint as Gov. Deval Patrick’s communications director and her position on the Brookline Board of Selectmen from 2007 to 2013.

How she’s standing out: Mermell’s 20 years of experience in public service are key to her campaign. From helping to enact Brookline’s plastic bag and styrofoam ban, to leading Gov. Patrick’s Strong Women Strong Families initative, to fighting for workers rights as President of the Alliance, Mermell has a broad swath of experience to cite when it comes to making change.

The Incumbent: Representative Seth Moulton

Represents: Massachusetts’ 6th district, including the North Shore and Cape Ann.

First elected to House in: 2014

Running for reelection? Yes, now that his presidential campaign has come to a close.

Challenger: Jamie Zahlaway Belsito

Currently: Executive Director of the Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance.

Known for: Her activism in the women’s health sphere, winning insurance coverage for screenings through the North Shore Postpartum Depression Task Force, fighting for more funding for resources for new mothers through the Ellen Story Commission on Postpartum Depression, and eventually starting her own consulting firm, Effie’s Grace, through which she advocates for women’s health policy.

How she’s standing out: Five years ago, Belsito volunteered on the campaign of Rep. Moulton’s Republican challenger, Richard Tisei. Now, she faces off with Moulton again, this time as a fellow Democrat. Belsito has been a vocal critic of the presidential hopeful, saying that Moulton has failed to prioritize Massachusetts and the 6th district during his national campaign and that his attacks on Elizabeth Warren were inappropriate.

“The emphasis of Mr. Moulton is not on our district,” Belsito told the Salem News. “During a time where we are being desperately underrepresented, he has chosen to single out and attack our own sitting U.S. senator, seeking to score political points, which exemplifies his disconnect from our district, and our Commonwealth.”

Even Belsito’s campaign hashtag is a jab at Moulton: #6thOverSelf.

Challenger: Nathaniel Mulcahy

Currently: A scientist and inventor with a particular interest in coastal ecology.

How he’s standing out: According to his website, Mulcahy felt compelled to run after reading several alarming scientific reports on climate change and becoming increasingly frustrated by the current administration’s inaction.

“I am not a single-issue candidate by any means but as you can see from how many of my issues concern climate, climate itself is not a single issue,” he writes on his website. “My wife and I are blessed with twin two- year-olds…Ten years from now, when they ask us if we did everything we could to help, we want to be able to say to our children, ‘Yes, yes we did.’”

Challenger: Lisa Peterson

Currently: A Salem City Councilor.

Known for: Founding Lantern Financial LLC, a financial planning firm for young people, and Run for Our Lives, a nationwide online network designed to encourage women to run for office.

How she’s standing out: Peterson’s financial planning expertise is a key part of her platform. “I have spent my career as a financial planner and local elected official helping individuals and communities navigate systems that weren’t built for us,” she writes on her website. “I want to take this fight to Washington which is why I am running for Congress and I am bringing you with me.”

The Incumbent: Representative Steve Lynch

Represents: Massachusetts’ 8th district, including Quincy, Brockton, and parts of Boston.

First elected to House in: 2001

Running for reelection? TBD.

Challenger: Brianna Wu

Currently: Co-founding Giant SpaceKat, an independent technology firm in Dedham.

Known for: Wu’s name became nationally-known after she was targeted by the alt-right—including a group led by Steve Bannon himself—in the GamerGate movement, receiving death threats, getting doxxed, and eventually having to flee her home in Arlington. Years later, she’s still sparring with prominent right-wingers, most recently InfoWars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

Wu also ran a longshot campaign for Lynch’s seat two years ago and earned 23 percent of the vote.

How she’s standing out: This year, Wu is coming back to the ballot with renewed vigor. She hired a campaign consultant who is acting as her press secretary, and she has been bold and vocal on Twitter, criticizing Lynch for his reluctance to call for Trump’s impeachment and his “incremental approach to climate change.”