IT TURNS OUT Bernie Sanders has little sway with voters in Winthrop and Revere when it comes to choosing their next representative. The same goes for former US housing secretary Julian Castro. And, for that matter, an impressive cast of local liberal politicos from surrounding areas.
Despite a set of high-profile endorsements unusual for a lowly state legislative race, union organizer Juan Jaramillo fell short in yesterday’s special election Democratic primary for the seat vacated by longtime House speaker Robert DeLeo. Instead, former Winthrop town council and school member Jeff Turco emerged victorious in the four-way primary, beating Jaramillo by about 300 votes.
Turco got 1,706 votes to Jaramillo’s 1,413, according to an unofficial tally posted Tuesday night by Politico’s Stephanie Murray.
Progressive activists hoped that an all-out push for Jaramillo, a Revere resident and immigrant from Colombia, might send a loud message to Beacon Hill, where minority representation lags and a more full-throated left-leaning agenda often gets pushed aside by moderate House leaders. Instead, it looks like the next rep from the 19th Suffolk District, which includes all of Winthrop and about half of Revere, will be a pro-life attorney who says he voted for Donald Trump in 2016 before switching sides to support Joe Biden in the 2020 race.
Winthrop resident Alicia DelVento finished third, less than 200 votes behind Jaramillo, while Valentino Capobianco, who was hit last week with charges of sexual misconduct that prompted Joe Kennedy and Attorney General Maura Healey to pull back endorsements of him, finished a distant fourth.
Turco will be heavily favored to capture the seat when he faces a Republican and independent candidate in the March 30 general election
Special elections have been criticized for favoring political insiders or those who can more quickly assemble and fund a campaign operation. Turco outraised his rivals.
Special elections also tend to draw much lower turnout than regularly scheduled elections, something seen yesterday with 4,704 people voting. Turnout was almost 50 percent higher in last September’s Democratic primary. In that race, DeLeo was running unopposed, but the same ballot featured the high-profile US Senate showdown between Ed Markey and Joe Kennedy.
Some immediately saw the primary result as another strong case for ranked-choice voting, which Massachusetts residents rejected on last November’s ballot. Under the system, voters rank their choices, with the second-choice votes of those finishing last redistributed to other candidates until one crosses the 50 percent threshold.
There were echoes in the rep race of last September’s Democratic primary for the congressional seat Kennedy was vacating. The more moderate Democrat, Jake Auchincloss, prevailed against a large field of more liberal candidates who split the progressive vote.
Auchincloss was just the latest in a long string of Massachusetts politicos going back decades who have landed in Congress after winning a small share of the vote in huge primary fields. He garnered a little over 22 percent of the vote in a nine-way race, similar to the share won previously by Lori Trahan, Mike Capuano, and Ed Markey on their way to winning open House seats.
By that comparison, Turco’s 36 percent practically qualifies as a shellacking of the field. Indeed, as much as he may have benefited by being the only candidate with more conservative credentials, it also may be that the district simply wanted a more “middle-of-the-road Democrat,” as Turco told the Boston Herald last night. “We’re not Somerville and we’re not Cambridge.”
In 2016, Hillary Clinton beat Trump in Winthrop, but it was far from the 2-1 blowout she enjoyed statewide, with the Democratic nominee winning 55 percent of the town’s vote to Trump’s 41 percent. In 2020, when Turco says he flipped from Trump and voted for Democratic nominee Joe Biden, some of his neighbors seem to have made a similar calculation, with the margin in Winthrop increasing to 61-37 for the Democratic nominee over Trump.
To the chagrin of liberals, DeLeo often advanced a fairly centrist agenda during his long reign as House speaker. But it reflected a district that also seems to stand firmly in the middle when it comes to the state’s political bearings. When Charlie Baker eked out a narrow win over Martha Coakley to capture the governor’s office in 2014, he did the same in the 19th Suffolk District, beating her there by 13 votes.