After progressive challenger Alex Morse fell short of ousting powerful corporate-backed Rep. Richard Neal in the Democratic primary for Massachusetts' 1st congressional district on Tuesday, LGBTQ advocates decried the "coordinated homophobic attack" against Morse—reportedly orchestrated by state party leaders—that came to dominate the final stage of the race as the incumbent's lead in the polls began to slip.
"The efforts to sensationalize and weaponize Alex's sexual orientation certainly influenced the outcome of this race, but the backlash it engendered should give pause to those considering similar tactics in the future," said Annise Parker, president and CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund, which endorsed Morse. "We are grateful Alex stayed in the race and took the body blows necessary to expose the double standards too often placed on LGBTQ candidates."
"We ran against one of the most powerful Democrats over the last 14 months who had access to millions and millions of dollars, the vast majority from corporations."
—Alex Morse, Holyoke mayor
Morse, the openly gay mayor of Holyoke, spent much of his post-election speech Tuesday night condemning a "broken" federal government that fails to guarantee healthcare as a human right while spending trillions on war and a Democratic establishment bankrolled by corporations guilty of "exploiting the working class people of this community and of this country." Morse also hinted at a possible second run for Neal's House seat in 2022, declaring, "We're not done yet."
"We ran against one of the most powerful Democrats—not just [any] Democrat, one of the most powerful incumbents in Washington—over the last 14 months who had access to millions and millions of dollars, the vast majority from corporations," said Morse, alluding to Neal's status as the top recipient of corporate PAC money in all of Congress, Republican or Democrat. "Corporations that aren't looking out for all of you... Big pharmaceutical companies that are making you pay egregious amounts of money for insulin, for medication in this country."
"This is who funds our congressman right here in western Massachusetts," Morse continued, also mentioning the healthcare lobby and the fossil fuel industry, both of which are major donors to Neal, who late last year helped tank legislation aimed at ending the scourge of surprise medical billing.
At the tail-end of his remarks, Morse condemned the "coordinated political attack" against him that "goes all the way up to Washington, D.C, Congressman Neal, the people around him, the Massachusetts Democratic Party, corporations that invested millions of dollars in attack ads over the weekend"—a reference to a spot from the Democratic PAC American Working Families that was widely denounced as homophobic.
"This isn't just about me," said Morse. "We have to send a message loud and clear that these kind of tactics in our communities are unacceptable."
Watch Morse's full speech:
Early last month, shortly before early voting began in the state primary, the College Democrats of Massachusetts released a letter accusing Morse of inappropriate sexual relations with college students, none younger than 18 years old. The letter alleged that Morse, who previously worked as an adjunct professor at UMass Amherst, used "College Democrats events to meet college students and add them on Instagram," among other vague accusations.
In response to the letter, which was immediately met with skepticism by many progressives, Morse said "every relationship I've had has been consensual" but apologized to anyone he "made feel uncomfortable."
"I will not apologize," Morse added, "for living out of the closet, for going on dates, and having consensual conversations."
Later reporting by The Intercept revealed the extent to which the College Democrats' letter was a product of coordination with the Massachusetts Democratic Party. According to The Intercept, state party leaders "connected the students with attorneys: among them was the powerful state party figure and attorney Jim Roosevelt, who worked with the college group on a letter alleging Morse behaved inappropriately."
What they did to Alex Morse, they will do to others. Let this be a cautionary tale. We need to stick together and help each other not walk into the traps they lay for us.
— Fred (@WaywardWinifred) September 2, 2020
In a statement late Tuesday, Justice Democrats—a progressive advocacy group that endorsed and remained supportive of Morse throughout the campaign—slammed the "manufactured scandal" targeting the progressive challenger who ran on a platform that included Medicare for All and the Green New Deal.
"While national and local media—particularly local television media—covered the initial allegations, there was little subsequent coverage of the investigative reporting that exposed the political hit job," the group noted. "Neal's backers even claimed to 'accidentally' release an ad the weekend before Election Day attacking Morse over the allegations."
Alexandra Rojas, executive director of Justice Democrats, said that despite Morse's loss, he emerges from the race "as an inspiration for his community who overcame a culture of fear instilled by the incumbent and desperate, manufactured attacks" while "Neal walks away damaged and vulnerable."
"Taking on Neal was always going to be our biggest battle," said Rojas. "He's the number one recipient of corporate PAC donations in all of Congress and wields an enormous amount of power over elected officials, labor unions, and community organizations as Ways and Means chair."
Parker of the LGBTQ Victory Fund said that "while Alex's loss is disappointing, it proved our community and our allies can respond forcefully in exposing the dog whistles and stereotypes that too often haunt LGBTQ candidates."
"We will not allow attacks on LGBTQ candidates to go unanswered during the final two months of this election cycle," said Parker.