Campaigns scramble for votes in countdown to primary elections

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  • Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse talks with Mona Scott of Easthampton during a standout on the Easthampton rotary in support of his bid for the 1st Congressional District seat on Saturday afternoon. Scott is the mother of Easthampton City Councilor At-Large Lindsey Rothschild. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Alexandra Brewer of West Springfield talks about her reasons for supporting U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, as she stands with a score of other like-minded voters near the corner of Hampden and Northampton streets in Holyoke on Saturday morning. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • John Foley, left, and his son, John Foley Jr., both of Holyoke, stand on the corner of Northampton and Dwight streets in Holyoke with other supporters of U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, on Saturday morning. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Ami Pelletier of Holyoke talks about her support for Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse’s bid for the 1st Congressional District seat during a standout on the Easthampton rotary on Saturday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, candidate for the 1st Congressional District seat, talks with Jon Shmulovic, foreground, of New Jersey and other supporters of his campaign during their standout on the corner of Northampton and Beech streets in Holyoke on Saturday morning. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Beth Brogle of Holyoke talks about her reasons for supporting U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, as she stands near the corner of Hampden and Northampton streets in Holyoke on Saturday morning. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Mary Jane Else of South Hadley talks about her support for Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse in his campaign for the 1st Congressional District seat during a standout on the Easthampton rotary on Saturday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse is joined by supporters of his campaign for the 1st Congressional District seat, including Hampshire Regional junior Nora Mulvehill, left, during a standout on the Easthampton rotary on Saturday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, a candidate for the 1st Congressional District seat, waves to cars passing by the Easthampton rotary during a standout with a score of supporters on Saturday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse talks with Nancy Stenberg of Easthampton about his candidacy for the 1st Congressional District seat during a standout on the Easthampton rotary on Saturday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Easthampton City Councilor At-large Lindsey Rothschild, center, talks with Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse during a standout on the Easthampton rotary with other supporters of his campaign for the 1st Congressional District seat on Saturday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse drops his mask briefly to address a score of supporters of his bid for the 1st Congressional District seat holding a standout on the Easthampton rotary on Saturday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse addresses a score of supporters of his bid for the 1st Congressional District during their standout on the Easthampton rotary on Saturday afternoon, Aug. 29, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Dan LiBoissonault of Holyoke talks about his reasons for supporting Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse in his campaign for the 1st Congressional District during a standout on the Easthampton rotary on Saturday afternoon, Aug. 29, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Reina Silva and her son, Cayden, 12, of Springfield stand on the corner of Northampton and Dwight Streets in Holyoke in support of U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, on Saturday morning, Aug. 29, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Dan Keenan, left, of Southwick and Karin and Mike Kane of Holyoke stand on the corner of Northampton and Dwight Streets in Holyoke in support of U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, on Saturday morning, Aug. 29, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse drops his mask briefly to address a score of supporters of his bid for the 1st Congressional District standing on the corner of Northampton and Beech Streets in Holyoke on Saturday morning, Aug. 29, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Noel Sherman of Ludlow talks about her reasons for supporting U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, as she stands near the corner of Hampden and Northampton Streets in Holyoke on Saturday morning, Aug. 29, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Dan Keenan, left, of Southwick and Karin and Mike Kane of Holyoke stand on the corner of Northampton and Dwight Streets in Holyoke in support of U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, on Saturday morning, Aug. 29, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Supporters of U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, hold a standout near the corner of Northampton and Hampden Streets in Holyoke on Saturday morning, Aug. 29, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Supporters of U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, hold a standout near the corner of Northampton and Dwight Streets in Holyoke on Saturday morning, Aug. 29, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Supporters of U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, hold a standout near the corner of Northampton and Dwight Streets in Holyoke on Saturday morning, Aug. 29, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Dan Keenan, left, of Southwick and Karin and Mike Kane of Holyoke stand on the corner of Northampton and Dwight Streets in Holyoke in support of U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, on Saturday morning, Aug. 29, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 8/29/2020 5:57:14 PM

HOLYOKE — The countdown to the state’s Sept. 1 primary elections is quickly nearing its end, and while some people have already cast their ballots via early and mail-in voting, campaigns spent the weekend making their final pitches to voters.

One of the most closely watched races in the state is in the 1st Congressional District, where 31-year-old Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse is challenging 71-year-old incumbent U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, for the Democratic nomination. The race has gained national attention as yet another example of young candidates running to the left of incumbent Democrats in bids to unseat them.

But across the entire state, voters will weigh in on the Democratic primary for one of two seats in the U.S. Senate. In that race, 39-year-old U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III is challenging 74-year-old incumbent Sen. Ed Markey. There is also a Republican primary, between political newcomer Kevin O’Connor and Shiva Ayyadurai, a scientist who received less than 4% of the vote when he ran against Sen. Elizabeth Warren in 2018.

Holyoke voters will also go to the polls to decide the Democratic primary for the state House seat in the 5th Hampden District, a three-way race among Patricia Duffy, the legislative aide for the seat’s current occupant, Rep. Aaron Vega; Patrick Beaudry, the manager of public affairs for the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission; and David Bartley, a lawyer, commercial real estate broker and five-term Ward 3 city councilor.

On Saturday, Morse arrived to a gathering of his supporters who turned out at Pulaski Park, at the rotary in the center of Easthampton. In an interview with the Gazette, Morse said he is “feeling good” heading into Tuesday. He believes the momentum in the race has shifted in the last few weeks, saying that people have been signing up to volunteer and that his campaign has received “grassroots donations from across the district and across the country.”

“I think the people of western Massachusetts are ready for change,” he said. “And I’m certainly feeling it in the air.”

Standing with a Morse sign on the curb was Dan LiBoissonnault of Holyoke, who said he was impressed by Morse’s ability as mayor to “bring the community together, unlike many other politicians that I’ve seen in the past.” He said he doesn’t support Neal in part because “I want to see newer blood in D.C.”

“Look around the district,” he said. “The district isn’t getting what it needs.”

A Holyoke resident, LiBoissonnault said he supports Duffy in the 5th Hampden District race, mostly because he believes she is the most progressive candidate out of the three.

“She knows what’s going on — she knows the issues,” he said.

On Morse’s home turf in Holyoke on Saturday, Neal supporters were standing on the corner of Dwight and Northampton streets, waving to cars as they honked their horns. One of those supporters was John Foley of Holyoke, who was drenched in rain while holding a Neal campaign sign. He said his son was an intern in Neal’s Washington, D.C. office, and that he liked the fact that Neal — who is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee — has “a lot of power in Washington.”

“He has a prestigious position and I want that to continue,” said Foley, who added he has supported Neal for the last 20 years. “I wouldn’t want a new person going in, in this crucial time in our nation’s history.”

As for the Markey-Kennedy race, Foley said: “It’s hard to be from Holyoke and not vote for a Kennedy … So I’m going to vote for Kennedy.”

Down near the intersection of Hampden and Northampton streets in Holyoke were about a dozen more Neal supporters, including Beth Brogle of Holyoke, who said that she doesn’t think Morse has been effective as mayor. She said she supports Neal in part because of his position in Congress: “It takes a long time to get there and that can certainly benefit the people of western Mass.” She said she’s undecided in the Markey-Kennedy race.

“Alex Morse has driven our city down the tube, and I don’t think we need that on a federal level right now,” she said.

Noel Sherman of Ludlow was also out supporting Neal. “He’s been getting the job done and I feel like everything he supports that I agree with, and I really think he’s a stand-up guy,” Sherman said.

“For me, it’s just about being an honest human being and just doing what is right and what you believe in,” she said. “I just feel Richie always works from the heart.”

Back in Easthampton, Morse supporter Ami Pelletier of Holyoke said she was concerned about “all of the corporate money Richard Neal takes.” She said she’s donated to Morse, who has pledged not to take corporate PAC money in the campaign; Neal, on the other hand, has taken donations from PACs of fossil fuel, pharmaceutical, agricultural and medical companies.

“It kind of shows where his interests lie,” Pelletier said.

Pelletier said she’s voting for Markey in the Senate race because she likes the fact that he was a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal.

“I haven’t heard a persuasive argument from Joe about why he’s running,” she said.

Morse supporter Mary Jane Else of South Hadley said Neal has become “increasingly inaccessible to voters” in the district. She also took issue with the corporate PAC money Neal takes.

“Alex Morse … has already said that he will stand for the Green New Deal, which we have to have,” she said.

Even as campaigns and their supporters make a final push to get out the vote, city clerks across the area have already been working to count mail-in ballots. Brenna Murphy McGee, the Holyoke city clerk, said mail-in balloting alone has voter turnout up to 11%, so she is expecting better turnout than the 13% who voted in the last state primary. And there are still some 1,600 mail-in ballots that could be turned in.

For those voting in person on election day, Murphy McGee said she doesn’t anticipate crowds. Polling places will be organized to allow for social distancing, and voters are asked to wear masks. Murphy McGee said that the city won’t have any troubles when it comes to staffing polls, but the city is looking for people to work the general election in November.

“If anyone is interested in being a poll worker, send them our way,” she said.

Easthampton city clerk Barbara LaBombard said her office has also been processing ballots. Between mail-in ballots sent out to voters and early voting, the city is already at about a 40% voter turnout, assuming all of the mail-in ballots come back: “Which they won’t,” she said. For the last three state primaries, the city had an 11% to 17% turnout, she said. Like McGee, LaBombard said she doesn’t expect in-person voting to be very busy.

“It is good to see people participating,” she said.

Hadley Town Clerk Jessica Spanknebel said absentee and early mail-in ballots will be processed as time permits throughout the day at the town’s new polling location, the recently completed Senior Center.

“With such a large number of mail-ins, in-person voting on election day will be less than usual,” Spanknebel said.

But she added that this will be reassessed in advance of the presidential election, when a higher turnout is expected. In 2016, 82% of Hadley voters voted in that election.

Staff Writers Dusty Christensen and Scott Merzbach contributed to this story. Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.




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