NOEL KING, HOST:
There is a fundamental question about the future of the Democratic Party that’s currently playing out in Massachusetts’ 7th Congressional District. Ayanna Pressley, the first black woman elected to the Boston City Council, is challenging Congressman Mike Capuano, a white male 10-term incumbent. The two have similar progressive policies, but the matchup is sparking another debate about how much race, gender and age ought to matter in Democratic Party politics. NPR’s Asma Khalid reports from Boston.
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Ayanna Pressley’s mantra is change can’t wait. And that is the message the 44-year-old delivers on campaign stops like this one at a Dominican restaurant. She’s come to talk specifically to women and girls of color.
AYANNA PRESSLEY: Now, listen. I’m not saying vote for me because I’m a black woman, but I won’t pretend that representation doesn’t matter. It matters.
KHALID: Pressley rattles off facts, telling the crowd this is the most diverse district in the state but also the most unequal.
PRESSLEY: This district is 57 percent people of color and almost 40 percent single female-headed households. The district has changed.
MIKE CAPUANO: All districts change. This district – Greater Boston is a very transient neighborhood. It’s always changing.
KHALID: That is Congressman Mike Capuano, the man who has held this job for 20 years and never faced a serious challenge until now. It’s hard not to see similarities between this race and the recent Democratic upset in New York with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But this is a fundamentally different primary. Pressley is not an outsider. She worked as a congressional aide for 16 years and was named a Rising Star by EMILY’s List. And Capuano is a known progressive, but he has said he’s put off by identity politics. Here’s what he told NPR member station WBUR in February.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
CAPUANO: Look, I cannot be a woman of color. I just don’t think there are that many people who will vote for me because I’m a white…