Ayanna Pressley is poised to be the first black woman to represent Massachusetts in Congress. Here’s how she did it.

Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, center, celebrates victory over U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano in the 7th Congressional House Democratic primary on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018, in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Energizing voters who aren’t historically known for high turnout in elections, Democrat Ayanna Pressley upset 10-term U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano in a primary election that’s garnered international attention, and positioned herself to make history as the first black woman to represent Massachusetts in Congress.

“That tells us something about the enthusiasm going into November,” said Northeastern political science professor Costas Panagopoulos.

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Pressley won in Massachusetts’ seventh congressional district, the only one in the state that’s comprised of majority nonwhite constituents. As of Wednesday, she was running unopposed for the seat in November.

“She won by cultivating a constituency that was looking for new leadership and new leaders,” Panagopoulos said. “What’s more, she energized the kinds of voters—minorities and young people—who don’t typically vote in large numbers, and the outcome shows us they did.”

On the issues, Pressley’s platform wasn’t much different from her opponent’s. It was her campaign style and her grassroots strategy  that won the day, said Thomas Vicino, who chairs Northeastern’s Department of Political Science.

“This was old-fashioned retail politics,” he said, referring to the style of campaigning in which a candidate will attend local events and go door-to-door to garner support. “She built up a strong neighborhood team and created a good structure where they divided the volunteers by precinct and then just knocked on people’s doors.”

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And there are certainly factors at play that created a perfect storm for Pressley—and candidates like her—to win, Vicino said.

District 7, US House, Massachusetts, Democratic Primary

DATA SOURCE Associated Press


“It was exciting to see her take her own history and personal struggles and make them a centerpiece of her platform,” he said. “Combine that with social justice movements like #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, and even issues like gun control, and you have an environment where her message really resonates with people.”

Pressley’s win, combined with the recent victory of political newcomer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York, has some political analysts predicting a strong Democratic showing in November’s midterm elections.

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“Voters are frustrated,” Panagopoulos said. “They want change across the board. But when you’re running in a general election, you have to appeal to a broader distribution of voters than a primary election. You can’t be as extreme to the left or right.”