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Centrist Opponent of Medicare for All Wins Primary to Replace Kennedy After Progressives Split Vote

After Jake Auchincloss, a Republican until 2015, won outgoing Rep. Kennedy's Democratic House seat with only 23% of the vote in a crowded field, many are once again questioning Kennedy's decision to challenge Sen. Markey. 

Jesse Mermell supporters, left, danced to music while standing nearby Allan Khazei supporters as the 4th District congressional contenders campaigned on Aug. 27, 2020, at the Brookline Farmer's Market in Brookline, Massachusetts in the days leading up to the Sept. 1 Democratic primary, which Jake Auchincloss, a Republican until 2015, won with only 23% of the vote. (Photo: Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Jesse Mermell supporters, left, danced to music while standing nearby Allan Khazei supporters as the 4th District congressional contenders campaigned on Aug. 27, 2020, at the Brookline Farmer's Market in Brookline, Massachusetts in the days leading up to the Sept. 1 Democratic primary, which Jake Auchincloss, a Republican until 2015, won with only 23% of the vote. (Photo: Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

A former Republican who pitched himself as a moderate in a fragmented Massachusetts race featuring nine candidates, including multiple progressives, was declared the winner Friday of the Fourth Congressional District's Democratic primary after garnering less than 23 percent of the vote.

The Associated Press reported the results early Friday morning, declaring Jake Auchincloss the winner. 

According to the Boston Globe, the Marine veteran and current Newton city councilor, who became a Democrat after winning his city council seat in 2015, aligned himself with Charlie Baker, the state's Republican governor for whom Auchincloss had previously worked, describing himself as an "Obama-Baker" voter.  

Auchincloss's closest competitor was Jesse Mermell, who had been endorsed by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), several labor unions, and a number of social and environmenal justice groups, including 350 Mass Action as well as NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Throughout the race, Mermell and other challengers tried to portray Auchincloss—who does not support a single-payer healthcare system or ending qualified immunity for police—as "ill-suited for the solid-blue district," the Globe reported. 

Auchincloss also received scrutiny for racist comments and social media posts made in the past, including statements that "seemed to justify the burning of the Quran" and that "mocked efforts by a local community to rename Columbus Day 'Indigenous Peoples' Day' in 2016," explained the New York Times

Nonetheless, the self-described centrist was the beneficiary of a fractured field that split the electorate. 

The "massive primary field" was opened up after outgoing Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.), a co-sponsor of the Medicare for All Act of 2019 in the House, chose to mount a primary challenge against progressive incumbent Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), co-author with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) of the Green New Deal resolution.

On social media, some commentators expressed their frustration with Kennedy's decision to abandon what HuffPost called his "safely Democratic" House seat only to lose badly to Markey and thus pave the way for Auchincloss's win.  

"It's hard to understand how this is about anything more than Joe Kennedy's own career and his own political ambition," Evan Weber, the political director of the Sunrise Movement, told The Atlantic

Some political analysts argued that the nine-way congressional race "illustrates the danger" of progressives' failure to consolidate support behind a single candidate, which, in a crowded and divided primary field, can empower moderates while harming the left. 

Although Auchincloss—who leads Mermell by 1,377 votes with more than 96% of precincts reporting—has been declared the winner, the recent discovery of 3,000 uncounted ballots, which were mail-in-votes that didn't make it to polling locations on election day, means that a "recount could be looming," the Boston Herald reported

According to a campaign spokeswoman, Mermell has begun soliciting recount petition signatures "out of an abundance of caution."

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