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Jake Auchincloss, newly minted Fourth District nominee, leans into pragmatism

Jake Auchincloss addressed the media after he was declared the winner of the Fourth Congressional District’s Democratic primary. He was joined by  his stepfather Greg Petsko and his mother Laurie Glimcher.
Jake Auchincloss addressed the media after he was declared the winner of the Fourth Congressional District’s Democratic primary. He was joined by his stepfather Greg Petsko and his mother Laurie Glimcher.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

NEWTON — Jake Auchincloss emerged from the Fourth Congressional District’s unwieldy Democratic primary as its nominee Friday, lifted by appeals to its moderate, blue-collar communities and a pitch as an “Obama-Baker” voter willing to partner with Massachusetts’ popular Republican governor.

The Newton city councilor and US Marine veteran declared victory over the more progressive Jesse Mermell of Brookline around 1:30 a.m., shortly after the last of the district’s cities and towns reported preliminary results showing him as the winner of the nine-way primary to succeed Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III.

Now facing a pro-Trump Republican in November, Auchincloss used his first event of the general election campaign to recast the centrist “narrative” that he said he was unfairly boxed into by his Democratic foes, several of whom backed policies like a single-payer health care system or free public college tuition, while he did not.

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“I am a progressive Democrat. I am a pragmatic progressive. I will act as such in Congress,” said Auchincloss, 32, outside Newton City Hall on Friday several hours after his early-morning victory over Mermell.

He topped Mermell by roughly 2,000 votes with more than 156,000 ballots counted, ultimately capturing 22.4 percent of a heavily divided field, according to unofficial results. Auchincloss, a one-time Republican, rode to victory by winning 25 towns, including Taunton and Fall River, the more moderate, southern anchors of the solid-blue district.

Mermell called Auchincloss shortly before noon Friday to concede, and later released a prerecorded video, saying she wished him “all the best.”

Friday’s results brought finality to a long, unsettled process that stretched more than two days after Tuesday’s election ended, during which Auchincloss and Mermell separated themselves from the Democratic pack but waited for thousands of uncounted ballots to be tallied.

It was especially wrenching in Franklin, the last town to report results. State and local elections officials huddled in a high school gymnasium for more than 9 hours, first tallying nearly 3,000 outstanding ballots, inputting the results, and, after an apparent printer malfunction, announcing the returns shortly after 1 a.m. — 53 hours after polls closed in Tuesday’s election.

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Mermell had earlier raised doubts about the vote count itself, charging that there may be more outstanding ballots beyond those counted in three communities — Newton, Wellesley, and Franklin — on Thursday under a court order.

“This was a hard-fought campaign and I’m glad that in the end we shared the common goal of making sure that every vote was counted,” Mermell said in the video that her campaign released Friday. But she said, “that doesn’t mean that I’m content with the returns.”

Jesse Mermell spoke to her supporters in a video after losing the Fourth Congressional District’s Democratic primary race to Jake Auchincloss.
Jesse Mermell spoke to her supporters in a video after losing the Fourth Congressional District’s Democratic primary race to Jake Auchincloss. Jesse Mermell For Congress Facebook Page

“I have some serious concerns about some gaps in the process that came to an end early this morning,” Mermell said, adding that the delayed results show that the state has “some work to do to make sure that our democracy operates smoothly.”

Secretary of State William F. Galvin said Friday that his office was reviewing the state’s voting procedures after his office had to intervene and oversee a ballot-counting process in Franklin that suffered from what he called “administrative inconsistencies.” (Local officials initially identified 600 uncounted ballots from Tuesday, but state officials ultimately found 2,700.)

“I believe that what we saw in Franklin was unique to Franklin, but it doesn’t mean it can’t happen other places,” he said Friday. “So it re-intensifies our need [for] our very strict procedures going into November.”

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Auchincloss will now face Julie Hall, an Air Force veteran and former Attleboro city councilor who in 2018 twice ran unsuccessfully for a state representative seat with the public backing of Governor Charlie Baker. Auchincloss will be heavily favored over the GOP nominee in a district that Hillary Clinton won by 24 points in the 2016 presidential election.

In reintroducing himself Friday, Auchincloss, who worked for the state GOP during Baker’s 2014 campaign, emphasized left-leaning planks of his platform, such as taxing carbon emissions and tightening gun laws with universal background checks.

He pointed to it as evidence of his ability to meld pragmatism and liberalism, a pitch that came as progressive Democrats spent Friday venting about his victory.

The chief of staff to state treasurer Deborah Goldberg lamented on her personal Twitter account about how female candidates can do “everything right,” including supporting the “right causes.”

Yet, “a man will wake up one day, pretend to be a Democrat, and take the ball right from your hands,” Chandra Bork wrote.

Frustrated Democratic activists also pointed to the race, and Auchincloss’ plurality victory, as a clarion rationale for embracing a November ballot question that would impose ranked choice voting, a system in which voters rank their preferred choices in both primary and general elections instead of picking one candidate per office.

It’s intended to ensure that a winner ultimately claims a majority of votes, and help eliminate “spoilers,” those third-party contenders or candidates with similar political leanings — such as several progressives in a single race — who pull enough votes from one candidate that it throws the election to another.

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The system is backed by both Auchincloss and Mermell, though the latter directly weaved it into her message Friday, propping up a sign behind her that read “Jesse Mermell for RCV.”

“If the ranked choice voting campaign needs a new face, give me a call, guys,” Mermell said in her video.

Auchincloss’ nomination marks a notable break from the present office holder. Kennedy, a Medicare-for-All supporter and popular progressive figure, has held the seat for four terms. (Kennedy chose to forgo reelection to launch a challenge against Senator Edward J. Markey, ultimately losing a spot on Capitol Hill.)

Auchincloss said Friday he’d already received “strong support” from Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston and Representative Katherine Clark, and said part of his job ahead of the Nov. 3 election includes “reaching across different fractures.”

“Now is the time more than ever for Democrats to unite,” he said, acknowledging he would redouble efforts to connect with different constituencies.

“Of course I need to reach out to people across the district,” he said. “I need to make sure I’m talking to the Black community about racial justice and how to be an effective antiracist champion in Congress.”

During the primary, Auchincloss was often on the defensive against his more progressive rivals, who sought to frame him as ill-suited for the solid-blue district for his past Republican ties. (Auchincloss later re-enrolled as a Democrat after winning his Newton City Council seat in 2015.)

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He faced constant attacks from an Emily’s List-associated super PAC, which spent nearly $450,000 in attempting to cast him as out of touch with the Democratic district and someone who doesn’t “stand up for women’s reproductive freedom.”

But Auchincloss also won the endorsement from the Globe’s editorial board, which some observers described as an inflection point in what had been a muddled field.

Auchincloss, who has distant family ties to the Kennedys, also received help from a super PAC that spent more than a half-million dollars supporting his candidacy after receiving at least $187,500 from his mother, father, and stepfather. His mother, Laurie Glimcher — the CEO of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute — also appeared in a campaign mailer with her son that touted him as the “right leader” to defend Planned Parenthood against President Trump.

Glimcher said the attacks especially frustrated her, saying she thought it was “slander, really.”

“The idea that Jake can possibly be a sexist and not in favor of women’s reproductive rights is absurd,” she said Friday after watching her son’s news conference outside Newton City Hall. “Do you think I would possibly have raised a son, as CEO of Dana-Farber, who wasn’t a strong advocate for women?”

Mermell was, by far, Auchincloss’ most relentless critic in the race’s final weeks, saying last month that the Newton Democrat was “someone who has been indefensibly out of step with this district time after time,” citing controversial past comments and social media posts.

She often used Auchincloss as a foil, framing the primary as a two-way race and him as someone who “does not represent our values.”

Mermell had bolstered her campaign with endorsements from some of the state’s highest-profile Democrats, including US Representative Ayanna Pressley and state Attorney General Maura Healey, and the consolidation of support from onetime candidates Dave Cavell of Brookline and Christopher Zannetos of Wellesley, who suspended their campaigns in August.

But although she carried many of the district’s wealthy northern suburbs, she struggled to carve out support as the district stretched farther south, where Auchincloss swept through most towns.

Dugan Arnett of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


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