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The Boston Globe

Politics

State House primary race nears finish line

Candidates hoping to replace Walsh

From left: Liam Curran cites his tough childhood and the help he got as a youth from the community. Gene Gorman, a lecturer at Emerson College, offers a blend of community and political activism. Dan Hunt says his state government experience would allow him to “hit the ground sprinting.” PJ McCann says he’s “the ideas candidate.” John O’Toole says his long experience in the district as a community activist sets him apart from the field.

From left: Liam Curran cites his tough childhood and the help he got as a youth from the community. Gene Gorman, a lecturer at Emerson College, offers a blend of community and political activism. Dan Hunt says his state government experience would allow him to “hit the ground sprinting.” PJ McCann says he’s “the ideas candidate.” John O’Toole says his long experience in the district as a community activist sets him apart from the field.

One of them will be the next Martin J. Walsh.

Or, at least, succeed him in the state Legislature.

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Across Dorchester on Sunday, the five Democratic candidates vying to fill the House of Representatives seat Walsh vacated to become mayor made their final campaign pushes, shaking hands, pitching potential voters, and reminding them of the imminent election.

And while the turnout at Tuesday’s Democratic primary is not expected to top 5,000 or so voters, political observers see whoever wins the race as being set to have outsized influence.

The Dorchester-anchored district includes some of the most politically engaged parts of the city and has, historically, been a springboard for higher office.

James T. Brett, whom Walsh succeeded in the State House and who ran unsuccessfully against Thomas M. Menino for mayor in 1993, said representing the seat comes with enormous expectations from constituents.

“People in the district expect you to do an exceptional job, that you move very quickly in the Legislature, that you are well-versed in the issues, that you bring meaningful results,” he explained.

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But more than that, he said, “They really do think that that representative from Dorchester is going to be somebody who is going to be listened to and is going to be a major player, in time.”

Noting that the decennial process of redistricting had substantially changed the district’s geographic makeup over the decades, Brett cited some of his predecessors from Dorchester in the State House who landed in higher office, including Robert H. Quinn, who was speaker of the House and became the state’s attorney general in 1969.

Former city councilor and longtime Boston political observer Larry DiCara said the challenge of winning a seat in a district where politics remains a potent force means the new representative begins the term as a politico with chops.

“If you make it through this crowd, you’re in the majors,” he said. “Nobody walks into this seat: You get here by beating other people who have political clout.”

In the 1997 special election to succeed Brett in the seat, Walsh topped a multi-candidate field that included Martha Coakley, now the state’s attorney general and a candidate for governor.

Walsh has not endorsed anyone in the race to succeed him, and Kate Norton, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said Sunday he has not and would not implicitly tell his backers to support or oppose a candidate.

She said, however, that he would vote on Tuesday.

No Republican made the ballot for this special election, so the victor in Tuesday’s Democratic primary is almost certain to win the April 1 special election.

On Sunday, all the candidates evinced a strong focus on candidate-to-voter contact in the 13th Suffolk District, which runs from near the JFK/UMass MBTA station to Walsh’s homebase of Savin Hill to the Neponset neighborhood and over the Neponset River to a tiny slice of Quincy.

And each detailed what he believes sets him apart.

Dan Hunt walked down Neponset Avenue and placed his campaign literature on door after door as a light snow began to fall.

A former director of government affairs at the state parks department and aide in the Legislature, Hunt, 33, said his state government experience differentiated him from his challengers and would allow him to “hit the ground sprinting” if elected.

Hunt added he comes from a family long involved in local causes and politics.

Particularly notable, in previous decades, his father and a brother both ran for the same seat Hunt is hoping to win.

Keenly studying a canvassing app on his phone, Liam Curran rapped on a door on Crescent Avenue, then asked the man who answered what he could do to earn his vote.

Curran, 33, and on leave from his job as a lawyer for Boston’s Workers’ Compensation Service, said his tough childhood — growing up with nine siblings in a household on welfare — and the help he got as a youth from the community informed his candidacy. “I ran to repay the debt,” he said.

Over the rattle of metal shopping carts, PJ McCann, 31, pitched himself to voters outside a Stop & Shop near Morrissey Boulevard.

On leave from his job as assistant general counsel for the Boston Public Health Commission, McCann said he was “the ideas candidate” and his focus on issues of economic inequality was unique.

Gene Gorman, jacket pockets stuffed with campaign fliers perforated to fit on door handles, marched down Geneva Avenue headed to go house-to-house.

The 43-year-old lecturer at Emerson College said his blend of community and political activism, along with the fact that he moved to the district in 2005 — unlike most of his competitors who are lifelong Dorchester residents — distinguished him.

Standing outside Greater Love Tabernacle Church as the sounds of the morning service echoed to the street, John O’Toole, 50, said his long experience in the district as a community activist made him different.

A co-owner of a real estate business, former City Council candidate, and one-time plumber, O’Toole ticked through projects he has been involved with over the years, in particular highlighting his role in helping to create a jogging and biking path in Dorchester along the Neponset River.

O’Toole also mentioned his union support, saying he had the backing of about a dozen “major labor groups,” and offered a little wisdom, accrued from his years working in the area.

“You know,” he said with a smile, “politics is sport here in Dorchester.”

Hopefuls for the 13th Suffolk District

Liam Curran, 33, lawyer for Boston’s Workers’ Compensation Service

Gene Gorman, 43, lecturer at Emerson College

Dan Hunt, 33, former director of government affairs at the state parks department

PJ McCann, 31, assistant general counsel for the Boston Public Health Commission

John O’Toole, 50, community activist and former City Council candidate

Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.

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