Mike Capuano Is in the Political Fight of His Life

The Massachusetts congressman, a longtime progressive Democrat, is hoping to stave off a challenger in Tuesday’s primary election.

Representative Michael Capuano of Massachusetts, right, is seeking his 11th term. In the Democratic primary, he is being challenged by Ayanna Pressley, left, a city councilwoman in Boston.CreditCreditCharles Krupa/Associated Press

For 10 terms, Representative Michael Capuano of Massachusetts — whose district includes much of Boston and liberal bastions like Cambridge — has been a stalwart progressive in the House Democratic caucus. He opposed the war in Iraq and was one of only 66 members of the body to vote against the Patriot Act, which expanded government powers in the name of fighting terrorism.

But in the Massachusetts primary on Tuesday, Mr. Capuano is being challenged by another progressive, Councilor Ayanna Pressley of Boston, a popular and tough-talking Democrat who jolted the political establishment with her decision to run. The two agree on many issues; the primary’s outcome will be a test of the breadth and depth of Mr. Capuano’s political organization, and whether voters in the racially diverse district prefer a black woman to the white male incumbent.

Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, The New York Times spoke with Mr. Capuano about his first competitive congressional race in years.

The following is an edited and condensed version of the conversation.

What do you see as the biggest area of daylight between you and Councilwoman Pressley?

I think that we’re in the fight of our lives with Donald Trump in the White House. And I think this district — like all districts, but particularly this one — needs the best fighter that we can get in Washington. Somebody who’s experienced and knows how to fight in Congress. But also, if the House goes Democratic, hopefully somebody who knows how to make the majority work for us as well — both on a national level and on a local level. So for me that’s what I’m focused on, not the differences between me and anybody else.

You have a well-documented progressive record. Are you surprised to be in this position of having to defend it in such a closely watched primary battle? Is it fair for someone to challenge you as not progressive enough?

In democracy, it’s fair for everybody to run for every office. I don’t think of it in terms of fairness. You know, like anyone else, I want everyone to love me and I want everyone to vote for me, but at the same time, I’ve never shied away from a political battle and this is no different.

You represent a majority-minority district. Is someone who is a person of color better suited to represent that population?

I don’t really look at it that way. I think people want the same thing: They want the best fighter they can get against the Trump agenda.

I think I’ve proven repeatedly, over a long period of time, that I like reaching out and I enjoy bringing different people together and trying to come up with one voice that we can talk to Congress with. So, in this case, my record speaks for itself. And again, I think the average voter wants somebody who’s best for them and not just someone who may look like them at a given time.

One of the places there has been daylight between you and Ms. Pressley is the so-called “Blue Lives Matter” bill, which creates harsher penalties for crimes against law enforcement officers. In the last debate you called it a “throwaway vote,” but your opponent criticized that decision, and some civil rights groups have said such bills negatively affect community relations. Can you explain more about your vote for the legislation?

The bill was simply a restatement of current law. And I actually do believe it should be illegal to target police officers and correctional officers. And for those who feel that the bill should have gone further — I would agree.

The bill that was in front of me was a fair bill, and that’s why the entire Massachusetts delegation voted for it, and that’s why I think it was two-thirds of the Congressional Black Caucus voted for it. And I believe almost all of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus voted for the bill.

It didn’t really change federal law — it was more of a statement built on the floor by Republicans. But the statement was fair: I just don’t think that you should be able to target police officers and correctional officers.

Were you surprised that your opponent picked up the endorsement of both The Boston Globe and The Boston Herald?

No, not at all.

What do you mean there?

What do you mean? I said I wasn’t surprised.

Is that a personal slight? You’ve been a congressman for 10 terms now?

The Boston Globe has never endorsed me in a contested election, and no one I know expected that they would this time, either.

Is there something that you’ve gleaned during this campaign that will change or inform the way you represent the Seventh Congressional District, should you be re-elected?

No, I think what the campaign has taught me is that, for the most part, we’ve done a pretty good job doing just that. We’ve always stayed close to the people in this district. I come home every single weekend. We do an awful lot of outreach. I have twice as many staff assigned to the Massachusetts offices as I do to the D.C. office because I prize the fact that we stay close to our constituents — and I think that a lot of this election will be based on that. We haven’t forgotten where we come from, and we have not ignored the home team.

How would you define the closing message for your campaign?

Quite simply, I would hope that people vote in their own best interest. I hope people do a little bit of work to research the backgrounds of the candidates and what we have each done. And if they do that, I feel confident that they’re going to see a record that they support.

I think people want the best fighter they can get against this Trump administration. And I think that’s going to be us.

Read more about Tuesday’s primary