Robbie Goldstein, a congressional candidate in Massachusetts’ 8th Congressional District, feels like he’s doing this elaborate tap dance routine and no one is paying attention.
“We feel like we’re over here on stage left ... with great costumes, and amazing music and everyone is over on the right saying, ‘I wonder what’s happening in Massachusetts in the 8th Congressional District, we don’t hear anything or see anything,’” Goldstein, a progressive first-time candidate running to unseat Rep. Stephen Lynch (D), a longtime moderate congressman, said in an interview with HuffPost.
Goldstein, 36, is running for Congress as an infectious disease doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital during a global pandemic. He wants single-payer health care, universal child care, a Green New Deal, and a monthly cash assistance program during the COVID-19 pandemic. He has the endorsements of Andrew Yang, local Sunrise Movement chapters, the Bernie Sanders-aligned Our Revolution, and Indivisible, one of the largest grassroots progressive organizations.
He sees an opening, suggesting that his race could be the next big progressive upset. Internal campaign numbers show him within striking distance — seven percentage points — of ousting Lynch, a nearly 20-year veteran of the House of Representatives and one of Joe Biden’s biggest supporters.
“[Lynch] doesn’t have a strong presence. He’s not particularly outspoken on much of anything. I think there is fertile ground to not do as well as people expect.”
But Lynch isn’t campaigning like he’s facing a serious challenger; he’s raised less money this cycle than he has in the past three. The official campaign arm of the Democratic Party doesn’t appear to be on the ground. Groups like Justice Democrats, which boosts progressive challengers to entrenched Democrats, are focusing their resources in a race on the other side of the state, where local mayor Alex Morse is challenging the high-ranking Democrat Rep. Richard Neal.
The Goldstein race “has the potential to be one of those sleeper races,” said Jonathan Cohn, with Progressive Massachusetts, a statewide advocacy group. “[Lynch] doesn’t have a strong presence. He’s not particularly outspoken on much of anything. I think there is fertile ground to not do as well as people expect.”
Lynch Is A Low-Profile Target
In Massachusetts, two primaries have caught national attention: One is the heated Senate race between incumbent Ed Markey, who is being challenged by Rep. Joe Kennedy. The second is Neal’s primary — a threat to the chair of the most powerful House committee, Ways and Means.
Lynch is a less high-profile target. His hopes to chair the House Oversight and Reform Committee after Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) died last October were dashed, despite serving on the committee for 18 years (he serves as a subcommittee chairman on national security). He was reluctant to get behind Trump’s impeachment inquiry until the allegations that Trump tried to use foreign officials to investigate Biden, whom Lynch endorsed for president last October.
He found himself in the headlines this week after a testy exchange with Trump’s Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, asking him bluntly at a House hearing: “What the heck are you doing?”
Over his 20-year career, Lynch has been the lead sponsor of five bills that have become law; two establishing post offices, two commemorative, and one to ensure federal employees who are veterans are guaranteed paid medical leave. He’s co-sponsored more than 100 others; his record as a Democrat is mixed. He’s an original co-sponsor of the Green New Deal, but once called global warming an “elitist” issue. He has a long record as a self-described anti-abortion Democrat — and voted to restrict abortions while in the state legislature — but has changed his tone over the last decade, and votes on party lines.
His history on LGBTQ issues has become liberal enough that the Human Rights Campaign endorsed Lynch over Goldstein, who is openly gay and runs Massachusetts General Hospital’s Transgender Health Program.
Lynch’s most famous vote in Congress is likely his one against the Affordable Care Act. But his vote differed from most of the moderate Democratic opposition to the landmark health care legislation; Lynch said he voted against it because it allowed for private insurance companies to become monopolies and did away with the public option. That vote was a major factor in his 2013 Senate primary loss against Markey. But in this race, Lynch is defending the ACA, arguing to expand it instead of working toward a single-payer insurance system, which Goldstein supports.
Lynch is not exactly the same as Rep. Dan Lipinski, the conservative Democrat from Illinois whose anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ, hardline immigration and conservative health care views lost him his primary to progressive candidate Marie Newman earlier this year. But he’s solidly a centrist — and a perennial target for progressives. After progressives, like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Boston’s Ayanna Pressley, successfully unseated longtime Democrats in the 2018 midterms, Sean McElwee, the co-founder of liberal think tank Data for Progress, listed Lynch’s seat as prime territory for a progressive to win.
The district is a Y-shaped cutout of neighborhoods south of Boston; a Democratic stronghold of some of the most progressive parts of the city with an influx of young professionals, and historically conservative Irish Catholic working-class neighborhoods that have shifted over time.
“I think it’s almost like the Senate race a little bit — I don’t think there isn’t a whole lot of oxygen between how the two of them would vote on most issues.”
“Over the past 20 years, the district has moved,” Goldstein said. “It has moved to a district that would like a pro-choice representative, it has moved to a district that would like someone who supports ‘Medicare for All,’ and is looking for health care expansion. It is a district that is directly impacted by the climate crisis and is looking for someone who understands the urgency of that issue. On almost every issue that matters to folks in this district, Stephen Lynch is to the right of where the district is.”
Lynch’s campaign brushed off the idea.
“I think it’s almost like the Senate race a little bit — I don’t think there isn’t a whole lot of oxygen between how the two of them would vote on most issues,” Scott Ferson, who spoke on behalf of Lynch’s campaign, told HuffPost.
A Potential Opening For A Progressive
There’s no denying that progressives in Massachusetts are energized, angry by how the national ticket played out and eager to win races. On top of that, there’s the heated Markey-Kennedy Senate primary that’s being billed as a progressive under attack.
“I think a lot of people have moved to the left and are more socially progressive than congressman Lynch,” said Elizabeth Clifford, 78, a Goldstein supporter who lives in a senior living community in Hingham. “I respect his perspective and his upbringing and I’m glad for him, for what he has achieved, but I think society needs to move beyond where we are now.”
Even Ferson, who also advises on the Markey campaign, spends half his time arguing that Massachusetts is moving more toward ideas like Medicare for All, something Markey has backed but Lynch is against. Ferson admits the district has changed, too, saying issues around climate change or Black Lives Matter weren’t big topics when Lynch came to office.
Lynch, however, doesn’t seem to be taking the challenge too seriously. He told The Boston Globe that his “campaign is just doing my job day-to-day.”
The 65-year-old congressman has a background that was once very familiar in the 8th district — son of a union ironworker, who followed in his father’s footsteps before becoming a lawyer, state lawmaker and then 19-year congressman. That story still resonates in parts of this district.
Goldstein, however, said he’s drawing inspiration from much more contemporary politics, like Pressley, a member of the progressive House “Squad,” and Rep. Lauren Underwood, who unseated Republican Randy Hultgren in the suburbs of Chicago.
Already there’s a growing list of progressives who have challenged sitting Democrats and prevailed this year: Newman beat out Lipinski in Illinois in March. In Missouri, Cori Bush unexpectedly ousted Rep. Lacy Clay. In New York, Jamaal Bowman pushed out Rep. Eliot Engel and Mondaire Jones won an open seat. (The race began as a primary challenge against Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, who ultimately decided to retire.)
Goldstein says he wants to “build an enormous progressive caucus” by finding Democrats who sit outside the norms of the Democratic Party and replacing them with progressives. And, he says, something else has caught voters’ attention.
“It does not go unnoticed in this district that I am an infectious disease doctor and we are living in an infectious disease pandemic,” Goldstein said. “I would have a very unique opportunity to bring some expertise to Washington that doesn’t exist — there’s no infectious disease doctor in Congress.”