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Ben Downing, former state senator, ends bid for Massachusetts governor

Former state senator Ben Downing, who now lives in East Boston, ended his gubernatorial bid this week.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Ben Downing, the Democratic former state senator who staked his gubernatorial bid on progressive policies like universal child care and aggressive climate action but struggled to gain traction in fund-raising, said Tuesday that he is ending his campaign.

Downing, 40, pointed to financial challenges as the reason for dropping out of the race, adding that he made the decision “with a heavy heart.”

“You don’t get into a race with this as the intended outcome or even the expected outcome,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday. “But I’d like to think and hope we added a little bit to it along the way.”


Downing represented his native Pittsfield in the state Senate for five terms, winning his first election in 2006 at just 25 years old. He became the Senate’s leading voice on clean power and later worked as vice president at the renewable energy company Nexamp Inc. He announced his campaign last February, running “to build a fairer, stronger Massachusetts.”

Although he had the advantages of an early announcement and roots in Western Massachusetts, Downing had been the worst-funded of the three major Democratic candidates in the field. Harvard professor Danielle Allen and state Senator Sonia Chang-Dίaz, a Democrat from Jamaica Plain, both launched their bids after Downing but outpaced him in cash on hand.

As of the end of November, Downing had just under $33,000 in his campaign account. Allen reported more than 10 times that sum — $386,270.63 — and Chang-Dίaz had just under $200,000.

Downing said Tuesday that his fundraising efforts faced “a set of crosscurrents that we couldn’t get around or through.”

In particular, he said, it was difficult to raise money given that he had been out of office for several years and that many prominent donors are “generally less aware” of candidates who hail from Central or Western Massachusetts.


Downing’s exit from the race comes as the field continues to take shape — on both sides of the aisle.

The news that neither Governor Charlie Baker nor Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito — both second-term Republicans — would seek the office next year threw the race wide open, sowing speculation in Massachusetts political circles about who might try for the office and potentially emboldening some political newcomers.

The political spotlight shines brightest on Attorney General Maura Healey, whose name recognition and enviable campaign account would likely position her as the Democratic front-runner. Healey, who is expected to announce soon whether she will enter the race, had $3.3 million in her campaign account at the end of November and has built a national reputation by going after former president Donald Trump and high-profile corporate targets like the opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma.

While Healey has yet to announce her plans, there are some hints that she may pursue a campaign: An adviser confirmed recently that Healey had hired Mindy Myers, a prominent Democratic strategist, as a consultant. Myers managed Elizabeth Warren’s 2012 campaign for US Senate.

On the Republican side, conservative former state lawmaker Geoff Diehl is running.

In statements Tuesday, Allen and Chang-Dίaz thanked their formal rival for driving important conversations in the race.

“I know [Downing] will keep fighting on behalf of Massachusetts families as he always has, and I look forward to working alongside him to create the transformation our state deserves,” Allen said.


Downing, who lives in East Boston with his wife, Micaelah Morrill, and their two young sons, said “the work of this campaign does not end today.” And he didn’t rule out another political campaign in the future, saying in the interview that he plans to “find a way to serve — but there’s plenty of different ways to do that.”

“Though my name will not be on the ballot next year, I will keep working for the principles that defined this campaign,” Downing pledged in a statement. But “for now,” he added, “I am off to chase Mac and Eamon.”

Emma Platoff can be reached at Follow her @emmaplatoff.