WORCESTER — Attorney General Maura Healey on Saturday won an overwhelming, if expected, endorsement for governor at the Massachusetts Democratic Party convention, further cementing her frontrunner status in a primary race against state Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz.
Chang-Díaz won enough support at the DCU Center among the convention’s roughly 4,000 voting delegates to also qualify for the ballot, setting up a two-way race in the Sept. 6 primary between two progressive Democrats. Each would be the first woman elected governor in Massachusetts.
“We did extremely well and I’m really excited,” said Healey, who won 71 percent of the delegate vote to Chang-Díaz’s 29 percent. Asked if she was ready to acknowledge it was her race to lose, Healey laughed.
“Are you kidding me?” said Healey, a former professional basketball player. “Look, I’m a competitor, and I’ve played enough games in my life to know not to pay attention to scores or polls or anything else. It’s about hard work. It’s about hustle.”
Democratic activists also backed Tanisha Sullivan, a corporate attorney and head of the NAACP’s Boston branch, as their pick for secretary of state over seven-term incumbent William F. Galvin, marking the second time in as many elections Galvin has lost at the convention. And Quentin Palfrey, a former state assistant attorney general, won the endorsement in a contentious, three-way race for attorney general that went to a second ballot to determine a winner after no one won 50 percent of the vote on the first.
Despite Democrats’ decades-long dominance on Beacon Hill, voters have regularly put moderate Republicans in the governor’s office over the last three decades, embracing their pitch to provide balance to the heavily Democratic legislature.
But after Governor Charlie Baker — a two-term Republican who enjoyed enduring popularity even among some Democrats — opted to not seek reelection this year, Democratic activists are bullish on retaking the office this year. And in Healey, many in the party see their best chance.
Twice elected statewide, Healey has built a national profile through litigation against the Trump administration and major corporations, and pitched herself Saturday as best suited to address the economic pain of residents, promising to “put money back in people’s pockets by cutting costs of housing, energy, and healthcare.”
She also entered Saturday’s convention in a position of power. She has enjoyed yawning polling leads over Chang-Díaz, has more than $5 million in her campaign account, and in recent days, further solidified support from labor unions and within the party’s establishment wing, including endorsements from fellow statewide office-holder, state Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, and the leaders of both legislative branches.
“She’s got her finger on the pulse of the economic crisis that so many people in Massachusetts are going through,” said Steve Grossman, a former state treasurer and a 2014 gubernatorial candidate, who walked the convention floor Saturday in support of Healey. “We’ve got to find ways to make this state more equitable and more fair.”
Chang-Díaz will likely try to draw sharp contrasts between her and Healey in the coming months, and try to convince both Democratic and independent voters to embrace the sweeping, progressive changes on which she’s built her campaign.
Chang-Díaz, a seven-term senator from Jamaica Plain, supports pursuing fare-free public transportation and a government-funded single payer healthcare system — seismic policy shifts she touts as necessary to shake off the status quo.
On Saturday, she framed herself as a Democrat willing to buck Democratic State House leaders even when it cost her politically.
“Stand up for what you actually believe,” she implored delegates from the stage. “Vote for action, not just words.”
Speaking later to reporters, Chang-Díaz indicated the vote exceeded her expectations. “We came for 15 percent, so we’re feeling really good,” she said. “People in this state are hungry for change, they are hungry for courage in our politics.”
The winner of the Democratic primary will face one of two Republicans in November, Geoff Diehl, a former state representative who won the state GOP’s endorsement at its convention, or Chris Doughty, a Wrentham businessman and first-time candidate.
Voting at the convention was hampered at times by confusion after the party, for the first time, used an app-based system to cast ballots. Dozens said they had issues submitting votes, prompting more than 130 people to crowd into a tunnel at the far end of the arena for the first round of voting, where officials asked them to instead cast paper ballots for several races.
Gus Bickford, the party chairman, later said that the vast majority of those people were alternatives who weren’t qualified to vote but sought to submit ballots. But it nevertheless delayed the release of the results of several races.
For the second straight cycle, activists snubbed Galvin, who’s seeking a historic eighth term, and turned instead to Sullivan, who won 62 percent of the delegate vote to claim the endorsement.
Pacing the stage with microphone in hand, Sullivan vowed to provide a more activist presence in the office, saying “this is not a job that gets done by filming PSA’s” — a direct knock on Galvin who has often appeared in commercials funded by his office.
“Here in Massachusetts, we have become accustomed to just voting for incumbents, and saying just because someone’s doing a good enough job, why are we changing? In this moment, we know that good enough is not enough,” Sullivan told reporters. “This is going to be a different year.”
Galvin four years ago also lost at the convention, where activists endorsed his rival, then-Boston city councilor Josh Zakim. But Galvin later won the primary by 35 points, and easily won reelection that fall.
Galvin spoke before the crowd with a typical bare-bones political operation. He had no supporters waving signs at the foot of the stage as every other candidate did, and, as he often does, spoke to reporters before the official results came in without any aides or handlers.
“I have been honest, I have been accurate, I have been competent,” Galvin told delegates, touting his oversight of record-breaking elections in 2020. “And I have delivered.”
Palfrey, the party’s lieutenant governor nominee four years ago, emerged with the party’s endorsement for attorney general after winning 54 percent of the vote on the second ballot, topping Andrea Campbell, a former Boston City councilor and mayoral candidate.
Campbell, widely viewed as the frontrunner in the race, had edged Palfrey by just 17 votes, 1,622 to 1,605, on the first ballot. Shannon Liss-Riordan, a labor attorney, also qualified for the primary, winning 22 percent of the initial vote.
“Up until this point, we’ve had to make the case that we were one of the candidates that were contending for the nomination,” Palfrey said. “It’s absolutely clear that we have a path to victory.”
Kim Driscoll, Salem’s fifth-term mayor, won 41 percent of the vote to take the party’s endorsement within a five-person field for lieutenant governor, outpacing state Representative Tami Gouveia, of Acton, and state Senator Eric Lesser, of Longmeadow, who also both qualified for the ballot.
State Senator Adam Hinds, of Pittsfield, and Bret Bero, a Babson College lecturer, were eliminated from the field after failing to reach the 15 percent threshold needed to qualify. Bero had earlier unsuccessfully pushed for a motion to allow all candidates to advance to the primary ballot.
Transportation advocate Chris Dempsey won the endorsement for state auditor, edging state Senator Diana DiZoglio, 53 percent to 47 percent.