Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Richard Neal, the chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means committee, survived a primary challenge on Tuesday from progressive challenger Alex Morse in a race in which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez chose opposing sides, according to a projection from the Associated Press.
Neal, 71, who has served in Congress since 1989, had the endorsement of Pelosi and the state’s Republican governor, Charlie Baker, in the Democratic primary for Massachusetts’ 1st congressional district.
Ocasio-Cortez’s PAC endorsed Morse, as the young congresswoman waded into a Massachusetts primary on the opposite side of the house speaker again. Pelosi drew the ire of “AOC” when she endorsed Rep. Joe Kennedy over incumbent progressive Sen. Ed Markey, who co-wrote the Green New Deal with Ocasio-Cortez.
Morse, 31, has been the mayor of his hometown since the age of 22. He touted the support of AOC’s “Courage to Change” PAC as a big boost to his campaign and their shared goal of building a progressive majority in Congress.
Morse also had the backing of the climate group the Sunrise Movement and the Justice Democrats. He campaigned on key progressive issues such as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal.
Morse, who is openly gay, was embroiled in a scandal in early August when college Democrat groups accused him of using “his platform and taking advantage of his position of power for romantic or sexual gain, specifically toward young students.”
An email signed by College Democrats of Massachusetts, U-Mass.-Amherst Democrats, and Amherst College Democrats alleges Morse had “sexual contact” with students at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he lectured on political science. The three groups disinvited Morse from all future events.
In a statement provided to the Daily Collegian, Morse admitted to having “consensual adult relationships, including some with college students.” He said he apologized “to anyone I have made feel uncomfortable.”
“I want to be clear that every relationship I’ve had has been consensual. However, I also recognize that I have to be cognizant of my position of power,” Morse said in the statement. “I am committed to meeting with any person or group, including the College Dems, to answer any questions and address any concerns.”
UMass-Amherst called the allegations “deeply concerning” and said the university has no plans to rehire Morse.
Ocasio-Cortez, 30, became the youngest woman elected to Congress when she beat powerful Rep. Joe Crowley from Queens in an upset victory in 2018. Since then, Ocasio-Cortez has sought to bring in more like-minded progressives to Congress, such as Morse, by putting her endorsement and fundraising skills behind other political newcomers.
Examples of recent successes include Jamaal Bowman, who defeated New York Rep. Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Marie Newman, who beat anti-abortion Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski in Illinois this year.