CEO Tom O’Neill Discusses the Recent Primary Election in Massachusetts & Looks Ahead to the Midterm Elections

September 10, 2018

There’s enormous enthusiasm among Democratic voters as we approach the November elections. Last week’s stunning primary victory of Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley over Massachusetts 10-term Congressman Michael Capuano is further evidence that voters want change in Washington. Many have compared Pressley’s victory to that of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s win in New York over Congressman Joe Crowley. Some observers see these campaigns as proof of an anti-incumbency sentiment, a massive progressive wave akin to a liberal version of the Tea Party movement. What I see happening is that Democratic voters want change in Washington and are choosing strong, diverse, hard-working candidates who they believe best understand their districts because they believe the challengers best understand their challenges, and thus will best represent their interests.
Ayanna Pressley ran under the slogan “change can’t wait,” knowing better than most political pundits that the voters of the Massachusetts 7th Congressional District were indeed looking for change. My father, Speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, Jr. represented what was then the 8th Congressional District for more than 30 years. The district has always been both liberal and progressive but the demographics of the district have changed significantly since the time my father held the seat. Pressley now joins a list of favorites and fighters who have honorably represented this district.
There’s no doubt that Democratic voters are frustrated with the President and the GOP, but they also want something different from their own party. What voters want varies from district to district and state to state. In western Pennsylvania, which went from reliably Democratic to an area dominated by so-called Reagan Democrats, Democratic Congressman Conor Lamb (PA-17) won a special election in a district that President Trump carried by 20 points in 2016. Congressman Lamb will stand for re-election in November. A former Marine Corps captain, Lamb is running a more centrist campaign that highlights country over party, and pocketbook issues like healthcare and pensions. My father believed that the path to victory was to stay focused on the district and the fact is Democrats need both centrists and liberals if they are to win a majority on Election Day. All politics is local wasn’t just a slogan to my dad, but rather a deep belief that elected officials succeed when they are keenly attuned to the hopes and dreams and challenges of their constituents.
I fully expect that the midterm elections this November will shake-up Washington. Both the House of Representatives and Senate could flip from Republican control to Democratic– though the math and the map are much more favorable for Democrats in the House. Democrats need to win 23 seats to capture the 218 seats necessary for a majority. Of the 66 House seats seen as competitive by the non-partisan Cook Political Report, the Republicans must defend 62 of them. There are 30 races labeled as toss-ups – 28 of which are currently held by Republicans. Across the country, military veterans– many of them women-an astounding number of candidates of diverse backgrounds, and many political newcomers feel it is their time to provide leadership through elected office.
I welcome new faces like Pressley, Ocasio-Cortez and Lamb for their unique personal perspectives and what they will bring to Congress. Come November, we will have many others to welcome as well.
In thinking about national leadership and the constant of American values, I am reminded once again of a courageous national figure: John McCain. There is great reason behind the outpouring of positive praise for him following his passing. He was a straight shooter who put his country first, ahead of party, and did not capitulate to “half-baked ideas.”
Many years ago, Senator McCain shared a story with me about my father then-Speaker of the House. My father had attended an event in Phoenix and following the event called then-Congressman McCain at his home to see if he wanted to join him on his fly back to D.C. McCain quickly accepted the invitation and told me “it was the best six hours of bi-partisanship he had ever experienced.” Two Americans discussing issues of common importance to both of them.
Hopefully, after November we can begin to renew these kinds of conversations. Our country needs them.

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