A progressive champion of Medicare for All in Massachusetts—who also happens to be an infectious disease specialist working on the frontlines of the Covid-19 pandemic—is challenging one of the most conservative Democrats in the U.S. House, a primary race largely overshadowed by others in the state that have garnered more fanfare.
While much of the national media has focused coverage on the battle between Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Joe Kennedy III in the state's U.S. Senate race and the headline-grabbing effort by Holyoke mayor Alex Morse to unseat powerful incumbent Rep. Richard Neal, the insurgent Dr. Robbie Goldstein has quietly surpassed Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) in fundraising over recent months while at the same time working in a coronavirus intensive care unit as a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital.
The state's Democratic primary is Tuesday, Sept. 1.
Stephen Lynch is the last remaining anti-choice, anti-ACA Democrat. @RobbieForChange has gone under the radar, but he's a gay infectious disease doctor who supports Medicare for All. In the midst of the pandemic we need more people like him in Congress. https://t.co/BseRtYetSA— sean (@SeanMcElwee) August 10, 2020
Lynch, who has served Massachusetts’ 8th District in the U.S. House for 19 years, is pro-life and one of only three Democrats currently serving in Congress who voted against the Affordable Care Act (ACA). While Lynch has amassed more funds in total—$660,000 to Goldstein’s $480,000—Goldstein crushed Lynch in the latest filing period (July through mid-August), raising $174,000 while Lynch raised less than $10,000. Lynch also reports 48 percent of all of his campaign donations as coming from political action committees, while Goldstein reports less than 1 percent of his funds from PACs.
This current moment in time—amidst a global viral pandemic, uprisings over racial and socioeconomic injustices, millions of workers unemployed, and millions without healthcare—has only served to sharpen the focus of systemic changes needed in U.S. public policy, Goldstein’s campaign argued.
"[The Covid-19 pandemic] gave us an opportunity to point to real-world examples that everybody was experiencing," Karen Clawson Cosmas, Goldstein's campaign manager, told Common Dreams. "It did nothing but lift back the curtain on all the ways that our healthcare system...and other social safety net systems are broken."
Data backs up this narrative. In a study released Wednesday, the Economic Policy Institute reported approximately 12 million Americans have lost employer-sponsored healthcare coverage since the Covid-19 pandemic began earlier this year.
Delinking health insurance with jobs should be a top policy priority. The most ambitious and transformational way to sever this link is to make the federal government the payer of first resort for all health care expenses—a “single payer” plan like #MedicareForAll.— Economic Policy Institute (@EconomicPolicy) August 26, 2020
"As an infectious disease physician and candidate for Congress, I am acutely aware of the impact decisions by our government have on the health of people across this country," Goldstein wrote in an opinion published in Common Dreams in July.
Multiple social crises, on top of changes in the district's demographics in the last two decades, make Lynch vulnerable to a challenger with more progressive ideas, Goldstein's campaign maintained.
Voters in Massachusetts' 8th District are more educated, more diverse, and younger than in past decades, something Goldstein's campaign sees as an advantage. As Clawson Cosmas pointed out, while Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden won the district in the presidential primary, votes for challengers Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who appeal to the party's more progressive base, outnumbered Biden's when combined.
The district, Goldstein told HuffPost in an interview this week, "has moved to a district that would like a pro-choice representative, it has moved to a district that would like someone who supports 'Medicare for All,' and is looking for health care expansion. It is a district that is directly impacted by the climate crisis and is looking for someone who understands the urgency of that issue. On almost every issue that matters to folks in this district, Stephen Lynch is to the right of where the district is."
Lynch is a former ironworker turned attorney. He is a conservative Democrat who has, like other centrist candidates facing public pressure from the party's left, evolved on some social issues over the years. A career advocate for labor rights, Lynch has flip-flopped on other civil rights matters including abortion and LGBTQIA+ rights.
According to a 2013 article in the Boston Globe, Lynch began his political career running for Massachusetts Senate in 1994 on an anti-gay platform because his incumbent opponent, the Globe reported, "had not done enough to keep gay and lesbian groups out of the St. Patrick's Day parade."
Also during his time in the state senate, Lynch pushed a "gay panic" amendment to the state's hate crime laws that would have made an exception to attackers of gay victims if the attackers said they were provoked by "lewd and lascivious" conduct, the Globe reported.
In more recent years, Lynch has come more to terms with the political realities of LGBTQIA+ rights in the 21st Century, and his stance against reporductive rights has shifted at least to the extent where he has committed to defending Roe v. Wade.
Goldstein, who is gay, helped create Massachusetts General's Transgender Health Program, and now works as a primary care doctor and infectious disease specialist focused on those living with or at risk for HIV.
"I talk with patients every day who are concerned about their symptoms and worried about the safety of getting back to work. I work in the intensive care units that are deciding how to allocate limited numbers of ventilators. I see how our lack of investment in public health has made my patients less safe," Goldstein wrote in his Common Dreams op-ed. "I launched this campaign to make sure that these stories are heard in the halls of Congress and are centered in our policy decisions."
There are currently no infectious disease specialists serving in Congress, and only 17 physicians. Goldstein's campaign argues, particularly in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, that more doctors ought to have a seat at the policymaking table as they are the ones who know firsthand what patient populations struggle with and need.
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"There has never been a more important moment for medical experts to have a seat at the table and to have the funding they need to do their jobs," Goldstein wrote. "We need healthcare professionals in Washington to fight back against an ignorant and reckless President, and to ensure that we put vulnerable lives first by implementing evidence-based strategies. We need Congress to provide oversight and hold the executive branch accountable to ensure the safety and security of our country."
What Goldstein lacks in political tenure, he makes up for in real-world, on-the-ground lived experience, Clawson Cosmas said. His work seeing patients and understanding how public health policy affects individual and community health makes him aptly qualified to bring their voice to Congress, she argued.
"What [Robbie's] been able to do is to very credibly explain that all of these issues of justice and equity all are part of a public health vision that makes sense for his candidacy and his campaign," Clawson Cosmas said.
Goldstein's campaign has focused on intersectionality, how most of the suffering and inequities that exist in our society are fundamentally connected. Using healthcare, and, specifically a single-payer Medicare for All system as his driving priority, Goldstein argues that healthcare is more than "an insurance card in your pocket."
Myriad issues including food insecurity, housing insecurity, lack of transportation services, environmental pollution and systemic racism, Goldstein said, have to be dealt with in relation to public health.
This is not a coincidence.— Robbie Goldstein (@RobbieForChange) August 26, 2020
It's a result of the systemic racism plaguing our economy, our healthcare system, & our society.
"Much like the pandemic's health impacts, the economic upheaval has been disproportionately borne by communities of color"https://t.co/NE8kVO9bVq
Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who has endorsed Goldstein and Morse, noted Goldstein's focus on action and connecting wide-ranging systemic issues as a matter of public health during a town hall he hosted with the two Massachusetts progressives.
"It reminds me a little bit of what happened in parts of New York," Yang said. "Where you had some Democrat who's, frankly, not the most progressive type, been around the system for a while just sort of cashing checks and doing stuff, and then they were challenged by folks who better reflected the actual values and experiences and priorities of the community. And that's what I think Robbie reflects."
Lynch's campaign doesn't see it that way.
"I don't think there isn't a whole lot of oxygen between how the two of them would vote on most issues," Scott Ferson, speaking on behalf of Lynch's campaign, told HuffPost.
"I'm here every single week, I have really strong personal connections with people," Lynch told The Globe. "My campaign is just doing my job day-to-day."
Referring to the current controversy surrounding the United States Postal Service and Lynch's serving as a member of the House Oversight Committee that heard testimony from Postmaster General Louis DeJoy Monday, Cosmas argued that action and advocacy are what move the country forward, not political theater.
"The Congressman can pound his fist on a podium all he wants," she said, referring to Lynch. "But that's not finding solutions."
During the course of this campaign, Goldstein has taken part in a lawsuit to increase ballot access for candidates amid Covid-19 shut downs, and he submitted an amicus brief as part of a complaint filed by fellow U.S. House candidate Becky Grossman aimed at extending the deadline for mail-in ballots.
"At the very least we need people who are going to use data and evidence and proven solutions to drive policy decisions," Clawson Cosmas said.
Dismissing the idea that Lynch isn't fundraising because his seat is safe, Cosmas noted that critics can speculate all they want.
"Whether or not any pundit wants to believe that we've got a new chance here, we know what we're doing and what is working," she said. "It is the voter who decides this election."
In response to a comment from Lynch published in The Boston Herald Sunday that Goldstein "didn't prepare himself" for this campaign, Golstein tweeted a thread response that read, in part: "I don't look in the mirror in the morning and see a Congressman. I see a man who knows how to invest in my neighbors. I see a doctor who works tirelessly to make sure his patients can live a healthy life. I see someone who fights every day for what is right."