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What Ayanna Pressley's Upset In Massachusetts Says About Democratic Voters


Another major upset in a Democratic primary happened yesterday in Massachusetts. Challenger Ayanna Pressley, a Boston city council member, defeated incumbent Congressman Michael Capuano. Pressley's victory is more proof that Democrats are willing to embrace non-establishment candidates in this year's midterm elections. The question becomes, what will these candidates do, should they get to Washington? NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: There have been three big upsets in Democratic primaries this summer. Last night's victory speech by Ayanna Pressley in Boston continued the theme.


AYANNA PRESSLEY: That with our rights under assault, with our freedoms under siege, that it's not just good enough to see the Democrats back in power, but it matters who those Democrats are.


GONYEA: Compare that to this victory speech from last week in Florida, where Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum is now the unexpected Democratic gubernatorial nominee. Pardon the distorted microphone.


ANDREW GILLUM: We can be the David in the situation where there's a Goliath.


GILLUM: That you can be the non-millionaire, you can come from working-class family, and you can make your way to the top.

GONYEA: And from late June, Alexandra (ph) Ocasio-Cortez - who has never held elective office - she defeated 10-term Congressman Joe Crowley in the primary in New York City.


ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Because the message that we sent the world tonight is that it's not OK to put donors before your community.


OCASIO-CORTEZ: What we proved tonight is that in sometimes the deep midnight and darkness that it feels in our political environment that there is still hope for this nation.

GONYEA: In the case of Pressley and Ocasio-Cortez, each is likely headed to Congress due to the overwhelming dominance of Democrats in their district. They will join a Democratic caucus that will be happy to have new members, especially if it comes with a House majority. Steve Israel, a former Democratic congressman from New York, says the usual rules may not apply as much to this new class.

STEVE ISRAEL: When I went to Congress in 2001, I was told as a freshman I should sit quietly in the back and wait my turn. I don't think that this generation is necessarily going to be content with following those rules.

GONYEA: Israel adds that despite all of the progressive energy, most of the new members of the Democratic caucus in the next Congress will likely be moderates, having won seats in districts that were previously held by Republicans - again, depending on how November goes. But he also predicts that those new progressives and new moderates would find agreement in the need to provide checks and balances against President Trump.

But on the campaign trail, some progressives have also pushed for a shakeup of the Democratic leadership. There have long been calls for Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi to step aside. Here was Congresswoman Linda Sanchez, vice chair of the Democratic caucus, this morning.


LINDA SANCHEZ: We need to have very frank and honest discussions about plans of succession. And we will do that at the appropriate time. I can't predict what will happen. People keep asking me. I don't know. I don't have a crystal (laughter) ball.

GONYEA: We are still two months away from election day. Nancy Pelosi dismisses such questions, and her status will only start to come clear once we see what the new congressional class looks like. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.