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Politics In The News: Massachusetts Primary Election

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is primary day in the state of Massachusetts, one of the last primaries ahead of the hugely consequential midterm elections this November. And in Massachusetts, many of the major national themes are on display. You have an outsider female congressional candidate challenging an establishment Democrat and a moderate Republican governor facing an onslaught from the right. Let's begin hearing about this with Frank Phillips. He's on the line. He's the Statehouse bureau chief for The Boston Globe. He knows a lot about Massachusetts politics.

Frank, good morning.

FRANK PHILLIPS: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So one of the major storylines we're seeing is this Democratic primary race. Ayanna Pressley, Boston City Council member, African-American woman taking on a 10-term white congressman - how serious is her challenge here? And how do you see this race?

PHILLIPS: It's very serious. She has got a lot of presence about her as a candidate. She's top of the ticket here in Boston a number of years, for the last two or three cycles as a city council candidate. Capuano is an older - in his 60s. She's young and dynamic. And it's - but he's popular, too. So she's taking on a very huge figure here, and she's made a real race of it.

GREENE: So is that a growing drumbeat in Massachusetts, I mean, as we saw recently in a Democratic primary in the state of New York, really overturning the establishment voices in the Democratic Party?

PHILLIPS: Well, it's a real challenge to it. The insiders will say Capuano may eat this one out, and that's the general consensus. But I'm not so sure because what you saw in New York - I think there could be a surge of anti-establishment voters coming out and ready to make a change. And Capuano is obviously fighting for his life here for the first time in the 20 years that he was elected.

GREENE: That he has a serious - a challenge as serious as this.

PHILLIPS: Yeah. Yeah, that he has a very serious challenge.

GREENE: So let me turn to the Republican side. You have the current governor, Charlie Baker, who's facing a challenge on the ballot. And we should say he is a Republican governor in a blue state. Also very popular, but this is not so rare in Massachusetts, right?

PHILLIPS: No. In its traditional - going back decades, there's a very conservative bloc of voters in the Republican Party. The internal polls - and I know this - the internal polls of the Baker campaign see that 60 percent of the people who will be voting in the Republican primary are very strong Trump supporters. And he has been - kept Trump at a very - a distance. He's - and he's challenged by this very pro-Trump, very controversial candidate Scott Lively, who's a pastor from the western part of the state, evangelical pastor and has sort of rallied that base. A lot of people are appalled at this because of - Scott Lively has had some very controversial comments about homosexuality and other issues like that. And but he's - the Baker people are taking it very seriously. They're - I know in the last couple of weeks, they're concerned that the margin might be a lot closer than they want it to be.

GREENE: All right, Frank Phillips of The Boston Globe talking to us about the primary today in his state. Thanks so much. We appreciate it.

PHILLIPS: Sure, absolutely.

GREENE: Let me turn now to NPR congressional correspondent Scott Detrow, who's been listening with us. Scott, really feels like some themes that you've been covering all across the country are playing out right there in Massachusetts today.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Absolutely. All year, we've seen that this democratic momentum is real, seeing it in the big picture, trends of special elections and voting in primaries and enthusiasm about the election. Republicans have been turning out in high numbers as well. It's always worth pointing out. And the context here, though, is that we've seen some high-profile progressive upsets of establishment candidates. Florida governor's race the most recent example. But by and large as we've been reporting all year, for the majority, especially in the key districts that will decide the control of Congress, it's typically the establishment or more moderate Democrats that are winning those races.

GREENE: Let me just ask you, before I let you go, about President Trump speaking about the midterms coming. He slammed his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, in a tweet yesterday. Is he suggesting that the Department of Justice has somehow hurt Republican hopes this election year?

DETROW: Yeah, he criticized Sessions for two indictments that went out over the summer against Republican congressmen - the first two Republicans on the Hill who endorsed President Trump, actually. The context here is that, first of all, he said this was an Obama-era charge. Chris Collins, the New York congressman, is charged with something that took place in 2017. Secondly, it's long-standing practice to go forward with political indictments ahead of the 60-day window, which we've not yet hit, before Election Day.

GREENE: Interesting. OK. NPR's Scott Detrow. We always appreciate it, Scott.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.