Next year’s primary elections are nearly a year off, and the field of possible candidates to fill Niki Tongas’ seat in the U.S. House looks less like a congressional ballot and more like an at-large race for School Committee. A dozen Democrats have at least signaled plans to run for the seat in the district, which includes Haverhill. and some are already raising money. Another is said to be thinking about a run, and at least one Republican is vying for the seat as well.
Such a crowded field is refreshing, for as long as it lasts. Today’s political contests, especially for state and federal office, are more typically scripted affairs between known partisans who’ve held other offices. An element of that is reflected in this pool of aspirants, but there are relative newcomers as well.
Take Abhijit “Beej” Das, CEO of a hospitality company, Troca Hotels. He grew up in North Andover and, as of a couple of months ago, planned to move to Lowell to live in the 3rd District. Launching a political career, he described himself as a “Paul Tsongas Democrat,” invoking the name of the late senator whose widow’s retirement has brought this rush of candidates.
There’s Juana Matias of Lawrence, who was first elected to the Legislature last year and is eyeing her next move. There’s Republican Rick Green, a successful businessman who’s led the conservative Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance and now is running for elected office, he says, to make a positive impact on the region and its economy.
Such a large group of people holds promise for fresh ideas and a lively exchange as the campaigns start in earnest sometime next spring.
To be sure, this long list of possibilities is here for one reason — the retirement of Niki Tsongas, who was elected to Congress from the 5th District in 2007 and who has represented the redrawn 3rd District since 2013. The field certainly wouldn’t be so deep if she were part of it.
Even in a so-called “wave” election, where one political party sweeps up control of Capitol Hill, the campaign of a member of Congress to hang onto her or his office is nearly always a fait accompli. Last year, a whopping 97 percent of incumbents running to keep their House seats were re-elected, notes the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, a money-in-politics watchdog.
Another truth is that while we’ll have finished one football season and started another before anyone casts a ballot in this election, the real race has already begun in the quest for cash. And, in these early months, the candidates who bank substantial money will almost assuredly be the ones who stand apart later on.
All of us might like to think that a grassroots, low-budget bid for Congress has the same chances as a well-funded campaign flush with advertising and polling. But it’s not the reality. The average House candidate in last year’s elections raised nearly a half-million dollars, according to the
Center for Responsive Politics. The number skews far higher when you consider just the incumbents up for re-election, for whom the average exceeded $1.7 million.
The money race in the Merrimack Valley has already started. Dan Koh, former chief of staff to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh who moved back to Andover to run, has already collected more than $805,000, according to the center, which monitors campaign disclosures to the Federal Election Commission. The next closest in the money race is Lori Trahan, who was chief of staff for former Rep. Marty Meehan and has raised nearly $242,000 in the bank.
A subplot to the money race involves four candidates — Matias, Trahan, state Sen. Barbara L’Italien and Haverhill’s Alexandra Chandler — and who are seeking the endorsement of the Washington group EMILY’s List, which gets behind Democratic women who support abortion rights. As Statehouse reporter Christian Wade describes in a story in today’s Eagle-Tribune, the jockeying for the group’s support has created a minor race of its own, the results of which could be significant in marshaling the small-dollar donations of its vast network of supporters across the country.
We haven’t even eaten turkey this year, so it’s clearly too soon to tell which candidates will put together the campaigns we’ll be talking about this time next year.
It could be any of the above mentioned. Or perhaps it will be Nadeem Mazen, the Cambridge city councilor who has said he’s moving back to his hometown of Andover to run for Congress. Or maybe Steve Karrigan of Lancaster, Terrance Ryan of Westford, Rufus Gifford of Concord, James Littlefield of Boxboro, or Louis Marino of Fitchburg. Or there’s Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini, who is still said to be contemplating a run.
Who knows what the coming months will bring, but for now we can appreciate the excitement and possibilities of a wide open field.