The Working Families Party, a New York-based progressive organization with growing national influence, will endorse and put resources behind Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey’s re-election campaign and Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse’s bid to unseat a 30-year incumbent in the state’s 1st Congressional District.
The double-endorsement, of a sitting senator and an insurgent House candidate, signals both the success of the progressive movement over the past few years and a new charge to defend lawmakers, like Markey, who have embraced the left’s agenda and led the way in pushing it forward on Capitol Hill. The Working Families Party’s independent expenditure group was among those that backed Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib against a moderate primary challenge in Michigan’s 13th District this week, a race she comfortably won on Tuesday night.
Morse is challenging Rep. Richard Neal, the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, who has come under fire from the left – and other more moderate factions of the party – for not pursuing oversight efforts into President Donald Trump and his administration with sufficient urgency. The 31-year-old, four-term mayor’s campaign is also backed by Justice Democrats, the group that helped launch a series of successful progressive challengers, from New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2018, to 2020 primary winners Jamaal Bowman in New York and Cori Bush in Missouri.
Markey, who co-wrote the Green New Deal resolution with Ocasio-Cortez in 2019, has been in Congress for decades and is the Commonwealth’s junior senator by a few months. Rep. Joe Kennedy III is giving up his House seat in a bid to replace Markey in the Senate.
In Massachusetts, the Working Families Party says it plans to mobilize 16,000 members and call on its “national texting team” to work the phones in support of Morse and Markey ahead of the September 1 primary.
Working Families Party national director Maurice Mitchell said in an interview that Markey, unlike other liberal incumbents who have been defeated by the left, including former Reps. Joe Crowley in New York and Massachusetts’ Mike Capuano, had distinguished himself – becoming a cause and not a target – because of his leadership on issues like the Green New Deal.
“A lot of members co-endorse pieces of legislation, but there’s a difference between having your staff put your name next to other names and those who are actually organizing within their caucus, and also organizing on the front lines of the fight,” Mitchell said. “It’s a significant distinction. (Markey’s) been one of the better champions on that and a host of other progressive issues.”
Defending Markey’s seat will be a formidable test for the progressives, who are working in 2020 to both grow their presence in Congress and consolidate the gains of two years ago. That the challenge, in this contest, comes from a Kennedy – in Massachusetts – further complicates the task, but offers the movement an opportunity to show its strength and potentially embolden other incumbent legislators to buck leadership and advocate more aggressively for left-wing priorities.
“The message (to other liberal lawmakers) is that if you’re a real partner and truly accountable and demonstrate that, not in a transactional way, but in a way where you really have skin in the game, then that partnership extends throughout the year and during election time,” Mitchell said.
The Morse race comes with a more familiar set of hurdles – the kind that progressives like Bowman and Mondaire Jones in New York, Bush, and Marie Newman in Illinois, have all cleared this primary season. Neal does not support “Medicare for All,” has been hesitant to back the Green New Deal and faced criticism for not aggressively seeking Trump’s tax returns when Democrats took over the House majority and he was handed the Ways and Means Committee gavel.
Morse, who is gay, launched his campaign last summer. This February, his brother Doug, who had struggled for years with heroin addiction, was found dead after a drug overdose. In an ad last month, Morse spoke about his brother and accused Neal, who has been in Congress since 1989, of “using his power and seniority to fight for the same drug companies that are fueling this crisis.” (Neal’s campaign disputed the charge and accused Morse of using his brother’s death as a “political football.”)
Mitchell touted Morse’s record during four terms as Holyoke’s mayor, a position he was elected to at the age of 22 in 2011.
“He has run and governed as a progressive in a very diverse community that has all different types of really deep challenges that any city, any diverse city in this particular moment, will have,” Mitchell said. “He is an up-and-coming progressive, openly gay elected official, who is, I think, based on his identity, very, very partial to people of marginal identities and making sure that people of marginal identities are in the center of the conversation.”
In a pair of statements, Morse and Markey thanked the Working Families Party for its support.
“As someone who comes from a working family in a working class town, I am proud to be a Working Families Democrat,” Morse said.
Markey, who, like the Working Families Party, backed Sen. Elizabeth Warren in the Democratic presidential primary, said, “I’m grateful they’ve chosen to endorse me in this race. Throughout my career, I have worked to challenge the wealthy and powerful, from big oil to the NRA, and fight for the needs of working families.”