Longtime U.S. Rep. Richard Neal wins Democratic primary

BOSTON (AP) — U.S. Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts, the powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, held off Democratic challenger Alex Morse in Tuesday’s primary after an acrimonious campaign that included allegations of sexual misconduct leveled at his younger opponent.

The 71-year-old Neal — the longest-serving member of the state’s all-Democratic congressional delegation — defeated 31-year-old Morse, seen as a political rising star after becoming one of Massachusetts’ youngest and only openly gay mayors since becoming chief executive of Holyoke in 2011 at age 22.

Both had collected high-profile endorsements in the last days of the campaign: Neal from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Morse from U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

The race was marked by allegations of inappropriate sexual contact with students by Morse when he was an adjunct professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Morse insisted his relationships with college students were consensual. In mid-August, the university said it launched an independent review.

Morse suggested the allegations were politically motivated and publicly blamed Neal’s supporters, denouncing what he called “a backroom political smear against this campaign.”

Morse won support from LGBTQ rights groups including MassEquality, which said the accusations fed “into the homophobic trope of gay men as predators.”

Neal first was elected to the U.S. House in 1988 to represent the state’s 1st congressional district, which encompasses the western portion of the state, including Pittsfield, Springfield, Lenox, North Adams and Stockbridge.

Neal will run unopposed in the November general election after Republicans failed to field a candidate.

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THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below:

Candidates in four of Massachusetts’ nine congressional districts are competing in Tuesday’s primary for the chance to represent their party in the November general election.

In Massachusetts, a state with an all-Democratic congressional delegation, the winner of the primary is often seen as the presumed front-runner in the general election, meaning a lot is hanging on the primary vote tallies.

In the 1st Congressional District, incumbent U.S. Rep. Richard Neal — chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee — is trying to fend off a challenge from Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse.

Morse, 31, has positioned himself as a progressive alternative to the 71-year-old Neal, who was first elected to represent the sprawling western Massachusetts district in 1988. Morse has the backing of New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, while Neal has the endorsement of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

In the 4th Congressional District, seven Democratic candidates are seeking the seat being vacated by Democratic Rep. Joe Kennedy III, who opted not to seek reelection and instead challenge Sen. Edward Markey in the U.S. Senate primary.

The candidates include Jake Auchincloss and Becky Grossman — both members of the Newton City Council — former Brookline select board member Jesse Mermell, City Year co-founder Alan Khazei, epidemiologist Natalia Linos, former Wall Street regulator Isshane Lecky, and Ben Sigel, who worked for the Democratic National Campaign Committee.

Two Republicans are also running for Kennedy’s seat — Julie Hall and David Rosa. Both are veterans.

The district winds from the Boston suburbs of Newton and Brookline south through Attleboro, Taunton and Fall River.

In the 6th Congressional District, Jamie Belsito and Angus McQuilken are hoping to defeat incumbent U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, a Marine Corps veteran who saw combat in Iraq and mounted a brief campaign for president last year.

Belsito, a self-described progressive, founded the Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance, which advocates nationally for better maternal health policies. McQuilken co-founded the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence after the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

The district includes Salem, Gloucester and Newburyport.

In the state’s 8th Congressional District, which stretches from portions of Boston south to Bridgewater, Robbie Goldstein, a 36-year-old South Boston resident, is challenging longtime incumbent Rep. Stephen Lynch.

Goldstein, an infectious disease specialist and doctor at Massachusetts General, said he’s had a front row seat to what he considers the federal government’s disastrous handling of the coronavirus pandemic. He also sees himself as part of a wave of younger Democratic candidates trying to push the party toward a more progressive agenda.

Lynch, a former iron worker and labor leader who was born and raised in South Boston, is hoping to retain the seat he’s held since 2001. Lynch has pitched himself to voters as a fighter for working families.

While Tuesday is primary day, nearly 1 million Massachusetts voters had already cast ballots at early voting locations, by mailing them in or by depositing them in drop boxes due to fears of spreading or becoming infected with the coronavirus.

Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin, a Democrat, said Monday he still expects a few hundred thousand voters will still show up at polling locations on Tuesday to vote in person.

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