Massachusetts primary day conflicts with Democratic convention highlight

Last modified: Monday, September 03, 2012

On Thursday night, most of the country's attention will be turned on Charlotte, N.C., where President Barack Obama is scheduled to accept the Democratic party's nomination for president. But in Massachusetts, where a series of congressional contests are to be decided the same night, it is a different story.

Thursday is the day of the commonwealth's primary, a non-traditional voting day selected by the secretary of state's office in an effort to avoid potential voting conflicts: a Jewish holiday, voting on the day after Labor Day and meeting a federal requirement that overseas and military ballots be sent out 45 days before a general election. The conflicting convention and primary schedules have inserted an additional layer of complexity into the two congressional races in western Massachusetts.

Neither U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, of Springfield, nor U.S. Rep. James McGovern, of Worcester, will be in Charlotte to watch Obama accept their party's nomination. Both will be in Massachusetts where they face primary challenges in the 1st and 2nd congressional districts, respectively.

McGovern will be in Charlotte for the first three days of the convention, returning on Wednesday. Neal is staying home for the duration of the convention.

"It is a challenge," said McGovern, who faces William Feegbeh in the new 2nd District.

Feegbeh, a Worcester resident, is running a long-shot campaign. He has no staff or fundraising and was charged earlier this year with assaulting his daughter. The charges are pending. In past years, Feegbeh has run unsuccessfully for state Senate, mayor of Boston and Boston City Council.

Still, McGovern isn't taking any chances.

"This is the first time many people will be voting with my name on the ballot so I need to get my name out there," McGovern said.

Thursday marks the first election since state lawmakers redrew the commonwealth's congressional boundaries last fall, a change that left many western Massachusetts residents in new congressional districts. The new 1st District, where Neal is running, includes 311,000 new voters now represented by retiring U.S. Rep. John Olver in the former 1st District. McGovern, who now represents the 3rd District, is running in the new 2nd District. Of the roughly 727,000 voters in the new district, 416,000 live in the old 1st and 2nd districts, represented by Neal and Olver.

There are no Republicans or independents running in the two districts that encompass the Pioneer Valley, meaning the winner of Thursday's Democratic primaries will represent the region in Washington for the next two years.

Neal faces two challengers in the new 1st Congressional District in former state Sen. Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr. of Pittsfield and Bill Shein, a writer and political activist from Alford.

"It's simply because the election is this week," said Matt Fenlon, a Neal spokesman, explaining the congressman's decision not to attend the convention. This year marks the first time Neal has not attended the convention since 1980, Fenlon said, adding that the Springfield lawmaker will be hosting a convention-viewing party on Wednesday night in Holyoke and a second viewing party to coincide with election night in Springfield on Thursday.

All the campaigns face the challenge of boosting turnout for the primary.

Secretary of State William Galvin said last week that statewide turnout on Thursday is projected to be 15 percent, though he said turnout in western Massachusetts could exceed that. Shein called Thursday a "terrible day for a primary," but said his campaign has been working for weeks to get the word out to voters about what day to head to the polls.

The projection of 15 percent turnout "requires attention and discussion," Shein said, noting that he favors proposals like universal voting registration and voting holidays to bolster turnout.

"We need our elected officials to pay attention to our democratic infrastructure," he said.

McGovern said he will be going to Charlotte because he thinks it is important to show support for the president, but also because he has an "ulterior motive."

"I am trying to rally the troops around ending hunger and supporting sustainable communities and local agriculture," McGovern said, adding that the convention is a rare opportunity to raise awareness about such issues.


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