More and more insurgent progressive candidates are betting that they can face off and win against incumbents and more moderate challengers in Democratic primaries nationwide. In Eastern Massachusetts, progressive City Councilor Ayanna Pressley is taking on 10-term Congressman Michael Capuano in 7th District, and Brianna Wu is challenging Stephen Lynch, a nine-term congressman. Likewise, in Delaware, Kerri Harris, a black, lesbian, military veteran, is running to unseat establishment senator Tom Carper. And, of course, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shocked the party when she ousted Joe Crowley, the King of Queens, and signaled to other progressive insurgents that they have a chance.
Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, a black Muslim mother of seven, is betting that she, too, can take down a high-ranking career politician in the September 4 Democratic primary In Massachusetts’s First Congressional District. An attorney from Springfield, Amatul-Wadud has been knocking doors and crisscrossing the majority-white and significantly rural district, hoping that her progressive message can turn out voters. Amatul-Wadud is one of three women challenging congressional incumbents in Massachusetts. If successful, she would be one of the first Muslim woman elected to Congress. (Last week Rashida Tlaib, a former state legislator and community organizer, won the primary to to replace John Conyers in Michigan. She is slated to become the first Muslim woman and Palestinian-American elected to Congress.)
She’s up against incumbent Richard Neal, a congressman of 30 years and a ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee. Neal recently dismissed Ocasio-Cortez’s victory, saying that it couldn’t happen in his district. “Every congressional district in America is different, and I think that needs to be acknowledged,” he said at a campaign event, echoing similar statements from politicians like Tammy Duckworth and Nancy Pelosi. That said, Bernie Sanders carried much of Neal’s district in the 2016 primary over Hillary Clinton, suggesting that voters support more progressive policies. Speaking to this race, Ryan Grim, who is the DC bureau chief of The Intercept, tweeted, “If Richie Neal goes down, nobody is safe.”
Although she is new to electoral politics, Amatul-Wadud has been extremely active locally. In addition to running her law practice, she serves on the board of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Massachusetts, volunteers on the Family Advisory Council of Boston Children’s Hospital (where her daughter received open-heart surgery as an infant), and is on the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women, which helped pass equal pay in the Baystate. She took classes through Vote Run Lead and the Women’s Fund of Massachusetts, both of which help women prepare to run for office.
Amatul-Wadud’s approach to politics is grounded in her life experience. Her support for Medicare for All is rooted in her daughter’s heart surgery. “I didn’t have to make a decision about whether or not we could afford to have her healed,” Amatul-Wadud said. “And I want every family to have that sense of assurance.” She sees the opioid crisis as an opportunity to incorporate criminal-justice reform into her stump speech. “If we had clinical and compassionate approach to how we dealt with addiction [during the crack epidemic], we would not have the opioid crisis. And if we did, we’d have a model for how to fix it,” she said, referencing her childhood “in a community that was ravaged by the crack cocaine epidemic.”