3rd District Decision Day is Here
In the 392 days since U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas announced she would not seek re-election after more than a decade in office, the 3rd Congressional District has seen close to 20 different candidates vying to succeed her, more than $9 million raised, at least $6 million spent, dozens of crowded forums, hundreds of door-knocking volunteers with campaign literature in hand, months of televised ads and one Fox News-crashing surprise.
The chaos all leads to this: Tuesday’s 10-way Democratic primary, the most crowded race for a federal seat in Massachusetts since 1998, to decide who will oppose Republican candidate Rick Green in November.
Are you ready?
Several other important races have Democratic primaries on Tuesday, including the state Senate seat held by Eileen Donoghue before she left to become Lowell’s city manager and the 18th Middlesex state representative race, where incumbent Rady Mom faces three challengers. But the 3rd Congressional District is by far the most high-profile election in the area.
The Democratic ballot -- Jeff Ballinger, Alexandra Chandler, Beej Das, Rufus Gifford, Leonard Golder, Dan Koh, Barbara L’Italien, Juana Matias, Bopha Malone and Lori Trahan -- is a kaleidoscope of diverse backgrounds, qualifications and personalities. They came to the race after serving in the state Legislature or leading small businesses or working in the intelligence community or as political aides elsewhere. Some had deep, decades-old ties to the 3rd District, while others moved into the area shortly before launching their campaigns.
L’Italien and Matias both serve in the state Legislature, but the other eight are relative newcomers who, despite experience in the world of politics, had never run for more than a municipal seat before now. Matias and Malone are immigrants, Gifford is gay, Chandler is a transgender woman -- in fact, only two of the 10 candidates, Ballinger and Golder, are straight cisgender white men.
Who will emerge as the victor from the crowded field remains unclear entering Tuesday. Candidates scrambled around the district Monday, shaking hands with onlookers in the Marlboro Labor Day parade and knocking on doors from Lowell to Lawrence.
Only two public polls were published, and the most recent, conducted in mid-August, found Koh with the most support at 19 percent and L’Italien and Gifford tied for second with 13 percent each. But almost 30 percent of respondents in that UMass Lowell-Boston Globe poll were still undecided at that point, and a majority of those surveyed either did not recognize or had no concrete opinions on most of the candidates.
Several residents interviewed by The Sun on Monday did not even plan to cast votes on Tuesday, saying they had not been following the race closely. One woman who declined to give her name said she had too many “other things in (her) life to pay attention to.”
Those that do plan to vote acknowledged they faced a tricky choice.
“Ten candidates -- it’s unbelievable,” said Brian Goldberg, a 41-year-old Shirley resident. “How the heck do I sort through 10 candidates?”
Neither Goldberg nor his wife, Melissa, had made up their minds by Monday afternoon, when they were approached by a canvasser for Malone at the Fire Parade and Muster in Groton. They planned to spend the evening researching each candidate’s positions on environmental issues, immigration and the Trump administration.
“We have some work to do before tomorrow,” Melissa said.
Democrats in the 3rd District race have frequently agreed on questions of policy. Most vowed to rework or repeal the tax cuts passed last year by Republicans and shift the benefits from corporations and the rich to the working and middle classes. Support for a Medicare-for-All-style single-payer health care system has been common, as have calls for an immigration reform that creates a pathway to permanent residency for undocumented immigrants already in the country.
There have been some divergences on tone, however. Koh last week described seeking the impeachment of President Donald Trump as his “number-one priority” if elected, and while his opponents in the primary have been unsparing in their criticism of Trump, none have matched Koh’s commitment to impeachment.
Some, such as Gifford, have chosen to speak in more optimistic terms, while L’Italien and Ballinger by contrast have been more pointed in their criticism of other candidates and the Democratic establishment, respectively.
Money has been a key factor in the 3rd District race, too, and one that highlighted a contrast between candidates. Koh led the field in fundraising by bringing in more than $3 million, most of it in the form of large donations from outside the district.
Gifford, with about $2.2 million, and Trahan, with about $1.4 million, also crossed the seven-figure mark, though both of their efforts were boosted by last-minute contributions from their own pockets. Gifford took out a $700,000 loan to put toward his campaign, while Trahan put in $200,000 of her own money in the final days.
Unlike the other fundraising front-runners, Trahan brought in the majority of her contributions from inside the district. Candidates with smaller operations, such as Chandler and Malone, instead focused on securing small-dollar donations rather than checks of $1,000 or more.
The race had been largely polite and friendly until the final week, when an anonymous attack ad circulated online and a handful of candidates began attacking one another. But despite that, the 10 Democrats have all indicated they would support whoever wins and goes on to face Green, who does not face a primary challenge on the Republican side, in the general election.
Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
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