Ayanna Pressley touts herself as a new voice for an urban district, building a campaign that has drawn national headlines. US Representative Michael E. Capuano is the 10-term congressman who says he’s so ingrained in one of the communities he represents, it’s his middle name. (And it literally is.)
In a political season awash in themes of generational change, the Seventh Congressional District’s Democratic primary is being held up as a party bellwether. And while turnout is expected to be low for Tuesday’s state primary, the political reverberations could extend far beyond the district’s serpentine borders.
The congressional race was one of many primaries heading into the final hours Monday, as candidates for governor, US Senate, secretary of state, and other seats jockeyed for support. They rushed from Labor Day breakfasts to cookouts, and from parades to meet-and-greets. For some Democratic primaries, Tuesday represents the final say as no Republican entries await in November.
That includes the Seventh District, where the Democrat-on-Democrat fight has muscled its way onto the front page of The New York Times and drawn coverage from national television networks. The attention has centered on the challenge from Pressley, the first African-American woman elected to the Boston City Council, one who says a district where the majority of residents are people of color need a change from Capuano, who has been reliable liberal vote on Capitol Hill.
Capuano, first elected to Congress two decades ago, has the backing of Mayor Martin J. Walsh and other members of the party’s Democratic establishment, and he touts a history of support for civil rights, gun control, and other liberal issues. On Monday, he cited his connection to such cities as Everett, telling volunteers there it’s just like the Somerville neighborhood where he grew up.
“I’ve been in Everett all my life,” he said, and vice versa: His middle name is, in fact, Everett.
The competing arguments have weaved themselves into a narrative of racial differences (Pressley is black, Capuano is white) and generational ones (Pressley is 44, Capuano is 66). And it’s helped elevate the primary into more than a midterm election fight among members of Congress’ minority party.
“It’s always a struggle for the hearts and minds and the soul of the party,” Capuano said of contested primaries. A victory for him, he said, would “be an affirmation of the work that I’ve done and the way I’ve approached this: Being open, being progressive, being willing to embrace different people across this district.”
Pressley, however, says voters are looking for more, embracing an idea that’s been reflected in a national movement of women and young Democrats who have challenged longtime — and, often, well-regarded — incumbents.
“To have a progressive voting record in the most progressive seat in the country . . . is no profile in courage,” Pressley said Monday outside the Greater Boston Labor Council’s Labor Day Breakfast.
Later, she greeted voters at a Chelsea church barbecue, telling Pastor Francisco Caro of the Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal that while she doesn’t speak “God’s language” — Spanish — “I do speak the language of love and justice and family.”
“I like that!” Caro said.
Throughout the primary races on Tuesday’s ballots, voters are hearing similar themes pitting experience versus youth, the status quo versus change.
Two Democrats — Jay Gonzalez and Bob Massie — are vying to be their party’s answer to Republican Governor Charlie Baker in November.
Both are wrapping their support of liberal priorities (such as single-payer health care) with different pitches: Gonzalez, a former budget chief under Governor Deval Patrick, says he knows how to get things done on Beacon Hill. Massie, an environmentalist and entrepreneur, says he brings a grand vision for the corner office unmatched by Gonzalez or Baker.
Together, they took turns rallying with union gas workers on Labor Day, grabbing a megaphone to fire up the audience as the crowd overflowed onto Boston’s Columbus Avenue.
“We’ve got a governor right now who says nothing, does nothing. On labor issues generally, he’s been nowhere,” Gonzalez said, charging that Baker, who’s backed outsourcing some functions of the MBTA, is “trying to privatize our entire government.”
Massie also sought to tap into the vein of labor support, telling workers that while they may see him as a gubernatorial candidate, “I see you as brothers and sisters.”
“You will have an ally in the corner office,” he told them. “Not a chicken who hides behind the walls and refuses to come out!”
While widely expected to win the Republican nomination, Baker must get through his own primary opponent, Scott Lively, a conservative Springfield pastor who is running as an avid supporter of President Trump.
Republican primary voters must also choose who will challenge US Senator Elizabeth Warren on Nov. 6. State Representative Geoff Diehl, businessman John Kingston and longtime GOP activist Beth Lindstrom are seeking the party’s nomination.
Meanwhile, the usually low-profile race for secretary of state is among the Democratic primary ballot’s most pitched battles, where six-term incumbent William F. Galvin faces a challenge from Boston City Councilor Josh Zakim.
The contest has centered on the office’s role of administering elections, with the 34-year-old Zakim’s calls for a more progressive vision, including pushing same-day registration, clashing with the 67-year-old Galvin’s arguments that his well-honed experience is what counts. The winner faces Republican Anthony Amore in November.
“I think the 2020 election is the most important presidential election since the Civil War. I believe the experience that I have in actually running elections competently and honestly is critically important,” said Galvin, who indicated that if reelected, his seventh term could be his last. “I have to be realistic. I’ll be 72 . . . by the time that term would end.”
Zakim, meanwhile, has pledged to not seek more than two terms. “Eight years is long enough,” he said, “and Mr. Galvin is going for almost 30.”
Depending on where voters live, there are a range of other choices. Boston’s other US representative, Stephen F. Lynch, is facing his own primary challenge from video game developer Brianna Wu and Christopher Voehl, a former Air Force pilot.
Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, also drew a Democratic opponent in Gary J. Rucinski, a project manager at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory. US Representative Richard E. Neal, a longtime Democratic member of Congress from Springfield, is being challenged from the left by Tahirah Amatul-Wadud.
Meanwhile, in the Merrimack Valley, 10 Democrats are vying for the nomination to succeed retiring US Representative Niki Tsongas — the only open seat out of the state’s nine congressional districts. The winner faces Republican Rick Green in November.Joshua Miller of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Matt Stout can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.