BOSTON, Sept 5 (Reuters) - A Boston city councilor’s historic defeat of a 10-term Democratic incumbent in the U.S. Congress was the latest sign of the rising clout of minority candidates in the party, many of whom are angry at Republican President Donald Trump.
City Councilor Ayanna Pressley beat U.S. Representative Michael Capuano by a stunning 59-41 margin to secure the Democratic nod to represent a district including most of Boston, and is poised to be the state’s first black woman in Congress as she faces no Republican challenger.
In a victory speech on Tuesday embracing liberal priorities, including reducing gun violence and protecting the rights of immigrants and women, Pressley blasted Trump as “a racist, misogynistic, truly empathy-bankrupt man.”
Pressley joins a growing slate of minority women Democrats running in the Nov. 6 midterm elections, including New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who scored a similar upset over a long-time incumbent, and Minnesota state Representative Ilhan Omar, set to become the first Muslim woman elected to Congress.
Democrats need to pick up 23 seats to take a majority in the House of Representatives, and two to take control of the Senate, if they are to serve as an effective foil to Trump’s agenda.
Female candidates in both parties have dominated key races in a year with record numbers of women seeking office.
Minority candidates could play an important role in Democratic efforts to fire up the party’s most passionate supporters and offset the low turnout that midterms often draw.
“The Democratic base is extremely diverse and the representatives they have in Congress are not nearly as diverse as the constituency,” said Joshua Dyck, a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. “Increasing that diversity helps the party’s brand.”
Pressley signaled on Tuesday that she expected to shake up her own party.
“With our rights under assault, with our freedoms under siege, it is not good enough to see the Democrats back in power,” Pressley, 44, told supporters. “It matters who those Democrats are.”
Nonwhites make up 19 percent of Congress, half their proportion in the general U.S. population, according to the Pew Research Center. That number is poised to rise in January.
The success of minority candidates has not been limited to federal races. Democrats in Florida picked liberal Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum to run for Florida governor, while Democrat Stacey Abrams in Georgia is vying to become the first black woman to serve as governor of any U.S. state.
The Florida contest immediately took on racial overtones after Republican U.S. Congressman Ron DeSantis, who is white, urged voters not to “monkey this up” by voting for Gillum, who is black.
Trump has angered Democrats with his comments describing some immigrants as criminals, his verbal attacks on black athletes protesting racism and a vow to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion across the United States.
Pressley’s tone may help to boost Democratic enthusiasm, said Peter Ubertaccio, a professor of political science at Stonehill College.
“People will respond when there are newcomers on the ballot, when you have highly spirited campaigns and when you are taking it directly to the president,” Ubertaccio said. “These are the kind of factors that Democrats need to have over the next two months if they are going to pull off victories in some of those really competitive races.” (Reporting by Scott Malone)