The triumph Tuesday night of a 44-year-old black woman over a 20-year House member in a Democratic primary election was a stark indicator that Democrats are looking for more representation in a number of factors: In addition to shifts in race and gender, the victory of Boston City Council member Ayanna Pressley over veteran Rep. Michael E. Capuano Mass.) represented voters' desire for generational change.
The Washington Post’s David Weigel wrote:
Capuano, 66, first won the seat in 1998 but struggled to keep up with Pressley as she argued that a young and majority-nonwhite district needed a fresh voice in Washington.
“I fundamentally believe that the people closest to the pain should be closest to the power,” Pressley said on the trail.
Pressley’s message wasn’t just one for the Republican Party, whose leadership structure is largely older, whiter and more male than the electorate. It was directed at lawmakers of color in Washington -- even those within her party.
When given the chance to get behind the first black woman from Massachusetts headed to Capitol Hill, the Congressional Black Caucus chose to endorse Capuano instead.
At a May campaign event, the New York Times reported that Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) praised his colleague's experience as one of the main reasons voters in Massachusetts's majority-minority 7th Congressional District should back Capuano over Pressley.
At Twelfth Baptist Church, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was once a pastor, the 78-year-old civil rights icon said:
People who have been around for awhile, they know their way around. They know where all the bodies are buried and they know how to get things done. . . . It’s important to keep a leader, a fighter, and warrior like Mike Capuano around.
But voters felt differently, leading some to wonder whether Lewis and his peers still represent their interests.
For several years, there has been a call among some Democrats, including lawmakers, to replace House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), 78, and her leadership team with more youthful voices. That presents a conundrum that would potentially force a choice between a younger leader and a black one, as I previously wrote of Rep. James E. Clyburn (S.C.), 78.
But Clyburn or a lawmaker of a similar age becoming the most powerful Democrat in Washington would not put to rest the concerns of Pressley or any of the other younger candidates of color, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 28, who beat older, more experienced competitors in their primaries.
Millennials — who range in age from 22 to 37, according to the Pew Research Center — are on the cusp of becoming the largest generation in the United States. They are more left-leaning than their parents and grandparents and are therefore more likely to back Democrats. But they are also the most racially and ethnically diverse generation, and many of have vocalized the importance of being represented by people who look like them.
Or, as Pressley put it in her victory speech: “It’s not just good enough to see the Democrats back in power. It matters who those Democrats are."
Voters who’ve participated in the races since President Trump’s election haven’t been sending a message only to conservatives, but to Democrats, as well, when it comes to their desired demographics for the next body of Congress. How closely existing Democratic leaders will take note is yet to be determined.