US midterm elections 2018

Race upset: black Democrat Ayanna Pressley takes aim at Donald Trump after beating 10-term incumbent

Similarities have been drawn between Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the political novice who defeated Democratic Party grandee Joe Crowley in a New York primary in June

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 September, 2018, 2:34pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 September, 2018, 2:44pm

An African-American woman pulled off an upset victory in a Democratic primary contest against a 10-term entrenched male incumbent in Boston, the latest sign that insurgent US candidates from the left are gaining ground.

Ayanna Pressley, 44, won the Democratic nomination for the US House of Representatives in Massachusetts’s seventh district, one of the most left-leaning in America and which includes Harvard University.

The Chicago-raised activist faces no Republican rival for the district, leaving her free to focus on President Donald Trump.

“Our president is a racist, misogynistic, truly empathy-bankrupt man,” Pressley told supporters on Tuesday night.

“It is time to show Washington, DC, both my fellow Democrats who I hope will stand with us and Republicans who may stand in our way ... change is coming and the future belongs to all of us.”

Trump has angered Democrats with his comments describing some immigrants as criminals, verbal attacks on black professional athletes protesting against racism and Twitter slaps at female politicians.

Pressley has long been identified as a rising star in the Democratic Party. In 2009, she was the first woman of colour ever elected to the Boston City Council. She also worked for former senator John Kerry.

Michael Capuano, who has represented the district for 20 years, conceded defeat in a primary that few predicted he would lose, armed with an impressive party machinery and top flight support.

“This is life and this is OK. America’s going to be OK. Ayanna Pressley is going to be a good congresswoman, and I will tell you that Massachusetts will be well served,” the 66-year-old said.

Teeming opposition on the left to Trump has fuelled primary wins for insurgent, women and minority candidates in Democratic primaries ahead of November’s crucial midterm elections.

Triumph of 28-year-old Sanders socialist over rich incumbent is a seismic shift for US Democrats

Pressley’s win echoed that of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s over the long-time representative Joe Crowley in New York, and the ascent of Stacey Abrams in Georgia, who – if she wins – will become the first African-American female governor in US history.

Pressley also represents the latest underdog candidate to have emerged to challenge both establishment Democrats and Republicans.

From Andrew Gillum in Florida to Beto O’Rourke in Texas, the results suggest a shift towards a bolder, progressive agenda in stark contrast – and a reaction to – the managerialism of Hillary Clinton’s last campaign.

A survivor of sexual assault at Boston University and during her childhood, Pressley has been a vocal supporter of victims of sexual violence since long before the #MeToo movement.

She was raised by her single mother, Sandra Pressley, on the north side of Chicago while her father, Martin Pressley, battled addiction and spent much of her childhood in prison.

They moved to Brooklyn, and Pressley attended Boston University from 1992 to 1994, but left school to work full time at a hotel to support her mother.

Pressley had campaigned heavily on issues like defunding US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) and passing a clean Dream Act to support young undocumented immigrants.

Pressley lives in the Dorchester neighbourhood of Boston with her husband, Conan Harris, and stepdaughter.

Dorchester resident Carla Monteiro, 35, voted for Pressley because, she said, she felt a strong connection to her history, and felt Pressley had a record of making change.

“I voted for Pressley because she has and will challenge polices,” she said.

Monteiro says as a woman raised by a single mother coming from a “tough neighbourhood”, she can relate to Pressley “in so many ways”.

Agence France-Presse, The Guardian, Reuters