Neal prevails over Amatul-Wadud in 1st Congressional District

  • U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, gives his victory speech after defeating opponent Tahirah Amatul-Wadud in the Democratic primary race on Sept. 4, 2018. —DUSTY CHRISTENSEN

  • U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, speaks to supporters after winning Massachusetts' 1st Congressional District Democratic primary against newcomer Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, Tuesday, in Springfield. THE REPUBLICAN VIA AP

  • Supporters of Tahirah Amatul-Wadud gather at the Munich Haus in Chicopee on Sept. 4, 2018, awaiting the results of her challenge to U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, for the Democratic primary in the 1st Congressional District. —DUSTY CHRISTENSEN

Staff Writer
Published: 9/5/2018 1:16:19 AM

SPRINGFIELD — Longtime incumbent U.S. Rep. Richard Neal won re-election Tuesday night yet again, defeating political newcomer Tahirah Amatul-Wadud in a race that drew national attention.

Neal, a 30-year incumbent and former mayor of Springfield, faces no Republican opponent in the 1st Congressional District on the ballot in November, all but guaranteeing him victory. And, as the ranking Democrat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, he is likely to become chairman of that body should Democrats retake the House of Representatives in November.

“Once again, we have been united by the principle we tell them what we’re for, and hope people rally to it: a traditional defense of Social Security and Medicare, and you know what, defend the Affordable Care Act,” Neal told a crowd gathered at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield.

Introducing Neal to the small crowd gathered at Neal’s victory party was Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle, who has backed Neal throughout the campaign.

“What a win!” LaChapelle said after Neal’s victory speech. “I think it’s well over a mandate.”

At press time, with eight of the 13 Hampshire County communities in the district reporting, including Easthampton and South Hadley, Amatul-Wadud had a lead over Neal in Hampshire County. But with 81 percent of all of the district’s precincts reporting, Neal appeared to have won 70 percent of the total vote, according to the Associated Press.

Going forward, Neal said he plans to focus on helping Democrats win back a majority in the House.

“I hope and I expect that we’re going to prevail and win the House of Representatives come November,” Neal said.

The mood at Neal’s event was calm until he emerged for his victory speech, with supporters welcoming the results with subdued applause until the race was called, when the crowd gathered around a podium to welcome Neal.

Just north of the Basketball Hall of Fame, at the Munich Haus restaurant in Chicopee, Amatul-Wadud’s supporters packed into an energetic banquet hall as they awaited the results. People streamed in front of the large campaign sign at the front of the room, taking pictures together.

“It’s good to have a room full of people,” Amatul-Wadud said when asked how she felt after the defeat. “You can’t tell we had an electoral defeat.”

Amatul-Wadud said that after the loss she will take some time to look after her family and her law firm, and will then decide where to take the campaign infrastructure her team has built. But the movement she built will be a force pushing the issues she raised over the course of the campaign, she added.

“I have no doubt that the momentum that we have, the number of people that we met, the platform that we have acquired will give us agency to be able to advocate for policies, and protocols, and quality of life decisions that we deserve,” Amatul-Wadud said.

That was the message others expressed at the event, including Amatul-Wadud’s brother, Bashir Abdul-Wadud.

“Regardless of the outcome of this particular race, there is a victory,” he said.

The race between Neal and Amatul-Wadud was in many ways similar to contests playing out across the country between powerful, establishment Democrats and a new generation of candidates challenging them from the left.

That fight over the future of the party has divided Democrats, often acrimoniously. However, for Easthampton residents Roger and Eleanor Herman, 72 and 83, their divided household didn’t seem to cause much tension.

“It’s not the first time,” Eleanor chuckled about their split votes as the couple left the polls at White Brook Middle School; she cast a ballot for Neal, while Roger backed Amatul-Wadud. Their reasons for voting for their respective candidates also seemed to mirror debates taking place nationwide.

“I think Neal, if the Democrats gain some seats… then his position will allow him to allocate money,” Eleanor said, referring to the fact that Neal will likely chair the Ways and Means Committee.

Roger, however, felt that Amatul-Wadud’s backing for universal health care — “Medicare for all” — was a fresh idea that was better than Neal’s proposal to stick with the Affordable Care Act.

“I think that single payer is the better option than expanding Obamacare,” he said.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at
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