The hotly-contested Senate primary between Congressman Joe Kennedy III and Senator Ed Markey dominates the statewide new cycles, but the race to fill Rep. Kennedy’s seat in MA04 is quietly more chippy and arguably more entertaining.

The seat is likely to remain in Democrat control in November and it is a wide-open primary with nine candidates on the ballot:

– Newton City Councilor Jake Auchincloss
– Newton City Councilor Becky Grossman
– CityYear founder Alan Khazei
– Former Wall Street regulator Ihssane Leckey
– Epidemiologist Natalia Linos,
– Former Deval Patrick Aid Jesse Mermell
– Attorney Ben Sigel
– Tech entrepreneur Chris Zannetos
– and until Thursday, Obama aide Dave Cavell (more on that in a minute)

A few months ago, I began covering the race by writing up profiles for each of the candidates in the Democratic primary and then interviewing them weekly on-air over the summer. I wrapped up my last interview in mid-July; shortly thereafter is when things started to heat up.

The tension took hold once the Boston Globe Editorial Board endorsed Auchincloss. The endorsement was met with heavy backlash when a Facebook post by Auchincloss from 2010 was unearthed in which Auchincloss shared a news story about Pakistani lawyers burning the American flag as he asked, “So we can’t burn their book, but they can burn our flag?”

Auchincloss issued an apology for the comment and said it was a “stupid remark by a snarky 22-year-old.” His comments were undoubtedly crass, but it’s fair to assume that the has matured over the last decade, especially from the ripe age of 22.

However, Auchincloss has also come under fire for being a registered Republican as recent as 2014, working for Governor Charlie Baker’s campaign, and in 2016 trying to prevent Newton Public Schools from disciplining students for driving around the parking lot waving a Confederate flag. He did so on the grounds that disciplining them would be violation of their free speech. Auchincloss’ comments and his time as a Republican operative have been met with universal rebuke from all eight candidates in the field.

Auchincloss, Along with Alan Khazei, are the top fundraisers in the race each with over $1 million raised.

In the endorsement battle, Mermell seems to be the clear leader after grabbing early endorsements from Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and feminist icon Barbra Lee. Mermell has dominated the most coveted organizational endorsements, including SEIU 1199, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the Massachusetts Nurses Association, Planned Parenthood Action, and the NARAL along with many state and municipal elected officials. It's also worth mentioning that after the Globe endorsement, Shirley Leung, a Globe business writer and former intern opinion editor, penned her own endorsement of Mermell.

But Mermell's most noteworthy endorsements came Thursday, as fellow MA04 candidate Dave Cavell dropped out of the race and put his support behind the progressive activist. Cavell has cited Mermell’s progressive qualifications, as well as what he felt was an urgency to consolidate support around a candidate to stop Jake Auchincloss from winning the nomination in a split vote. Mermell and Cavell both worked under former Governor Deval Patrick’s administration, and are reportedly good friends.

Shortly after Cavell, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey endorsed Mermell. Attorney General Healey, along with Congresswoman Presley, gives Mermell the support of arguably the two most popular progressive elected officials in the Commonwealth. 

While Mermell is earning endorsements, Isshane Leckey, considered to be the leftist candidate in the race, just lost one. The Boston chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) recently rescinded their endorsement of Leckey, citing a letter they received from her staff with allegations of mistreatment, and weariness of Leckey’s decision to put over $700,000 of her own money into her campaign. Leckey refused the endorsement before DSA could rescind it, but they nevertheless went forward with rescinding it formally. 

Leckey has repeatedly disavowed the use of Super PACs in the race, but many on the left argue that Leckey donating so much of her own money to the campaign is indistinguishable from a Super PAC as it is still a singular private interest using their considerable personal wealth to sway influence in an election.

The polling on the race has been scarce, but Becky Grossman has a slight lead in the two polls that have been released. Grossman, the daughter-in-law of former State Treasurer Steve Grossman, has racked up some high profile endorsements herself such as former Obama HUD Secretary and presidential candidate Julian Castro, California Congressman Ro Khana, the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts, Mass Retirees, State Senate Majority leader Cynthia Creem, State Senate Chairman of Ways Means Mike Rodrigues and others.

Both polls were internal and released by their respective campaigns, one from Grossman early this summer, and the most recent poll from Leckey, which shows Grossman up with 19 percent, followed by Auchincloss at 16 percent, Leckey at 11 percent, Mermell at 10 percent, and the rest of the candidates in single digits.

However, if we assume the polling is accurate, Cavell’s departure from the race is freeing up seven percent of the vote, and with a considerable chunk of the electorate (25 percent) left undecided and the turnout uncertain due to COVID-19, it’s anyone’s guess who will win the nomination on September 1 and likely the seat in November.

Marcus Ferro is an attorney practicing in New Bedford and a weekly contributor to The Chris McCarthy Show on 1420 WBSM. Contact him at marcusferrolaw@gmail.com. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

Enter your number to get our free mobile app