Attorney General Maura Healey doesn’t have an active Democratic primary. That has left her time to get involved in 17 others.
The presumptive nominee for governor, Healey in recent weeks has propped up allies in a slew of Democratic races for legislative and law enforcement seats, extending her endorsement, volunteers, and time to those who could help buttress her agenda should she — and they — prevail in November.
Her decision to inject herself into so many Democratic contests is significant. Her support could help propel rarely challenged incumbents back into office and, in turn, solidify her support within a Legislature whose backing she’ll need to realize many of her priorities should she win the corner office.
It also offers a window into how Healey could wield her name and political capital. A victory in November would not only make her Massachusetts’ top elected state official but give her a claim to be the state party’s de facto leader.
Healey’s delivered her most high-profile endorsement this month, backing Andrea Campbell in the three-way primary for the office Healey is vacating. It’s her only endorsement in a contested statewide Democratic race ahead of the Sept. 6 primary.
She has also looked down-ballot, endorsing an incumbent-heavy slate — 11 are elected officials facing primary challenges, many in the Legislature — as well as five other candidates vying for open seats in the state House, Senate, and a pair of district attorney offices.
The candidates share little, if any, ideological thread, and some appear to reflect a measure of political loyalty, something Healey has hewed to during her rise through the party. They include progressive stalwarts and moderate, as well as conservative, members of the House Democratic caucus, including several who voted to uphold a veto of a 2020 bill that codified abortion rights into law.
Nearly every sitting lawmaker she’s backing also holds some type of leadership post. That includes the fifth-ranking Democrat in either chamber: Representative Sarah K. Peake of Provincetown, who is facing her first primary challenge in 16 years, and Senator Joan B. Lovely of Salem, who has never faced another Democratic opponent since winning her seat in 2012.
Representative William M. Straus, a Mattapoisett Democrat and another Healey-backed candidate facing his first primary challenge in a decade, is the House’s longtime chairman of the transportation committee, which has openly scrutinized the Baker administration’s handling of the MBTA.
“I think it’s incredibly refreshing,” Doug Rubin, a Democratic strategist, said of Healey spreading her support. “The easy path would have been to not get engaged in these races, to stay focused on your race. That says a lot about her personally and how she’s going to perform as governor.”
Not among her endorsements, however, is anyone who is challenging an incumbent, notable given Healey’s own history of bucking the political establishment.
As a first-time candidate in 2014, she topped a well-known Democrat who had the backing of then-Governor Deval Patrick, among others. Healey later broke with most party leaders to back Representative Ayanna Pressley in her 2018 upset of Michael Capuano, endorsing Pressley after the then-city councilor had done the same for her four years earlier.
“She’s picking people based on some relationship, and she’s probably trying not to get too far out there” with her picks, said one Democratic strategist who has worked with Healey and others she’s endorsed. “But this is showing a Maura Healey who is probably more institutional, more [focused on], ‘Let’s get things done,’ than being a progressive purist.”
Healey’s campaign did not make her available for an interview. In a statement, the South End Democrat said she is backing candidates she believes “understand the needs of their districts and will be strong partners in our work to make Massachusetts a better, more affordable place to live and work.”
“We need strong, experienced leaders in government who are ready to collaborate and hit the ground running on day one to deliver for people,” Healey said.
Her decision to insert herself into the party contests, however, has surprised, if frustrated, some of the challengers who say they, too, have backed Healey in the past.
Among those she is supporting is Representative Paul J. Donato, a Medford Democrat who has held the seat since 2001 but is facing his second challenge in as many cycles from Nichole Mossalam of Malden. She has criticized Donato for his vote in 2016 against a bill that allows people to use the restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity, as well as his vote in 2020 to uphold Governor Charlie Baker’s veto of the so-called Roe Act that expanded access to abortion.
In endorsing Donato, who also has the support of Senator Edward J. Markey, Healey called him a “very long and early supporter of mine.”
Mossalam said she respects Healey and supports her gubernatorial bid. But she said Healey never reached out to talk to her before endorsing Donato, and argued her decision is not “in tune with the local voters and our local issues.”
“I believe she’s doing a disservice to our community,” Mossalam said.
Since state Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz ended her campaign in June, Healey has been afforded a clear path to the nomination, and many believe, the governor’s office itself. She led each of her potential Republican opponents, Geoff Diehl and Chris Doughty, by more than 30 points in a Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll last month.
As the calendar has inched toward the Sept. 6 primary, she has focused on helping those in other races, most notably the tightening attorney general’s race between Campbell, labor attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan, and former assistant attorney general Quentin Palfrey.
Healey and Campbell’s campaign schedules have become nearly intertwined since Healey announced her endorsement in a radio interview this month, with the two appearing together in Mattapan, Gloucester, and Springfield, among other places.
Campbell’s campaign tucked the endorsement, and Healey’s photo, into a recent television spot. Even outside groups have featured the endorsement prominently. Campaign mailers sent by the Environmental League of Massachusetts’ super PAC this month tout its support of not only Campbell and Healey, but Healey’s support of Campbell.
The endorsement has also put Healey at odds with other state party heavyweights, including Senator Elizabeth Warren and Mayor Michelle Wu, who are backing Liss-Riordan.
“This is a big swing, using some of her political capital to sway voters when she’s popular,” said Erin O’Brien, a political science professor at UMass Boston. “This is a place where she’s exercising her true preference. She’d rather work with Andrea Campbell.”
She’s given time and aid elsewhere, too. Healey on Sunday campaigned in Lawrence with Pavel Payano, a city councilor vying in a three-way primary in a newly reshaped state Senate district. On Twitter, her campaign has amplified her endorsement of Manny Cruz, a Salem school committee member running in another three-way race for an open House seat. And Representative Tommy Vitolo, a Brookline Democrat locked into a lively primary with former Select Board member Raul Fernandez, said he’s canvassed the district with Healey volunteers.
“She wants to make sure all the voices are heard,” said state Representative Chris Markey, a Healey-backed Dartmouth Democrat. Markey has veered from Healey on several issues, having voting against a measure to allow undocumented residents to apply for driver’s licenses and a sweeping policing bill in 2020.
In endorsing him, she said he’s brought a “thoughtful, balanced approach to governing.” They also have a personal connection — Markey said he has “dear friends from college who are friends with her.”
“She’s going to be the governor. She’s going to win. And she knows she has to work with both sides,” Markey said.
Cameron Costa, a 21-year-old New Bedford Democrat challenging Markey, meanwhile has the support of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO and the Massachusetts Teachers Association — two influential labor groups that also endorsed Healey.
“It’s that classic thing,” Costa said of Healey endorsing his incumbent opponent. “When you fight against the establishment, the establishment fights back.”
Matt Stout can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.