By Jim Ellis
Aug. 27, 2018 — One of the few interesting remaining primaries in this 2018 election cycle is the open northern Massachusetts congressional race a week from tomorrow featuring 10 Democratic candidates all attempting to succeed retiring Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Lowell).
A new University of Massachusetts at Lowell and Boston Globe survey of the impending MA-3 Democratic primary (Aug. 14-21; 849 MA-3 registered voters, 553 MA-3 likely Democratic primary voters) finds ex-Boston mayoral chief of staff Dan Koh forging into the lead, but with only a 19-13-13 percent edge over former ambassador to Denmark, Rufus Gifford, and state Sen. Barbara L’Italien (D-Andover) as the state’s Sept. 4 partisan primary draws near.
But other candidates could possibly make a run, too. Business consultant Lori Trahan posts eight percent in the poll, and while state Rep. Juana Matias (D-Lawrence) has just six percent, she is dominant within the district’s Hispanic community. In such a crowded campaign with a low voter turnout, any candidate with a major support base must be taken seriously. The other five candidates each register four percent and below.
But there could be more to this campaign than the winner of a crowded primary going on to easily take the general election in what should be a safe seat for the dominant party in the district, in this case the Democrats.
The winning Democratic contender will exit the primary with a victory on Sept. 4, but will have only a small plurality of support and just two months to unify his or her party with enough backing to win the general election.
Several points make this a potential sleeper general election campaign. In the poll, when looking at the favorability indexes for the various Massachusetts office holders, an oddity came to the forefront. According to the U-Mass Lowell/Boston Globe data, the most popular elected official within the sampling universe is Republican Gov. Charlie Baker who scores a 72 percent favorable rating. To put this in perspective, the second-most popular is Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, but she falls two points below the GOP governor.
To make the Baker positive standing more significant, for the governor, or any Republican to win statewide in Massachusetts, he or she must run up a victory margin in three particular congressional districts, the 3rd being one of them. The other two are the western state 1st District (Rep. Richard Neal), and the 9th CD (Rep. Bill Keating) located southeast of Boston and through Cape Cod.
Therefore, with a strong Baker campaign gearing up to win a landslide re-election — the Massachusetts Republican is the also highest-rated state chief executive in the country — could the governor’s robust turnout operation help a congressional Republican in a split Democratic district that Baker will carry with a big margin?
While unlikely — because MA-3 remains a strongly Democratic seat, one in which President Trump lost 58-35 percent, and Mitt Romney and John McCain didn’t fare much better — the possibility still seems to exist.
The Republican primary features only one candidate, and a credible one at that. Rick Green owns a successful auto parts company, had raised over $600,000 through June 30, and loaned his campaign an additional $170,000. Without a primary campaign churning his resources, Green is ready to launch a viable general election effort.
In an election cycle featuring an unusually large number of competitive seats — possibly over 70, and the vast preponderance of them being Republican defense situations — it is possible that a sleeper campaign in this most unlikely of states could be forming.