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Maura Healey endorses Jesse Mermell in crowded Fourth District primary

Attorney General Maura Healey.
Attorney General Maura Healey.Jessica Hill/Associated Press

Attorney General Maura Healey, one of the state’s leading progressive stars, said Thursday she is backing Jesse Mermell in the congested Fourth Congressional District primary, just hours after Healey’s former adviser dropped from the race.

The Charlestown Democrat is the highest-ranking statewide elected official to lend an endorsement in the now eight-Democrat race. And her announcement was the latest domino amid a rapid-fire set of developments Thursday: a super PAC is now backing Mermell, and Dave Cavell, a former adviser to Healey, announced that he was suspending his campaign just 19 days before the Sept. 1 primary and endorsing Mermell.

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The move, Cavell said, was an attempt to coalesce support for a similarly progressive candidate and avoid a splintered vote that could help Jake Auchincloss, a Newton city councilor and one-time Republican who Cavell said “should not represent the Fourth District.”

In a statement released by Mermell’s campaign, Healey did not cite Cavell’s exit. But Cavell discussed suspending his campaign with her before his announcement, and his decision “made her choice even clearer” to back Mermell, according to a Healey aide, who was granted anonymity to discuss her rationale.

“This was about Jesse and her support for Jesse,” the aide said.

Healey and Mermell share political advisers, including the consulting firm Melwood Global, and the two worked together on reproductive rights issues when Mermell was vice president of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts and Healey headed the attorney general office’s civil rights division, campaign aides said.

Healey, who doesn’t live in the Fourth District, has waded into competitive Democratic primaries before, endorsing Representative Ayanna Pressley in her 2018 challenge to then-incumbent Congressman Michael Capuano.

“I’ve worked alongside Jesse for a long time,” Healey said in a statement. “I’ve seen her commitment to protecting women’s access to reproductive health care, expanding workers’ rights, and advocating for families devastated by the opioid crisis. I’m proud to support Jesse because I know she will fight for the equitable future that the people of Massachusetts deserve.”

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Mermell, who was former Governor Deval Patrick’s top communications aide, has rallied support from several the state’s established Democratic corners, including Pressley, a longtime friend; state Auditor Suzanne Bump; and influential unions, such as the SEIU and the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

A rebranded super PAC that was once heavily funded by those labor groups also waded into the race Thursday, disclosing nearly $25,000 in spending on mailers backing Mermell’s candidacy. The group, now known as Commonwealth Values PAC, first emerged as the Rethink PAC during the 2012 cycle, when it spent more than $1.1 million opposing then-Senator Scott Brown in his race with Elizabeth Warren.

SEIU unions and the Massachusetts Teachers Association collectively poured hundreds of thousands eight years ago into the PAC, which had roughly $75,000 on hand to start July. It has yet to report any new donations.

It’s only the latest outside group to spend in the race’s final weeks. A super PAC funded, in part, by Auchincloss’s parents and a national veterans group has also spent heavily on advertising, dropping more than $420,850 in less than two weeks on television ads and mailers to bolster the US Marine veteran’s candidacy.

Other candidates have received outside help, too, or have bolstered their campaigns with personal loans.

Auchincloss, Newton city councilor Becky Walker Grossman, Brookline Democratic Ihssane Leckey, tech entrepreneur Christopher Zannetos and Alan Khazei, the co-founder of City Year, have collectively launched more than $2.2 million in television ads in recent weeks, expanding their reach to voters as the novel coronavirus pandemic limits in-person campaigning.

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Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout