personal politics

Gay, progressive Democratic candidate Alex Morse loses primary

Alex Morse
Holyoke mayor, Alex Morse (Photo: Alex Morse/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Alex Morse, 31, the progressive Democrat and Mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts, has failed in his bid to challenge veteran Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA) for his seat.

Neal, 71, has represented Massachusetts’ First Congressional District since 1989. He also chairs Congress’s House Ways and Means Committee.

The primary generated much national attention, pitching as it did a younger, progressive Democrat against an established, powerful Democratic politician.

Morse became Mayor of Holyoke in 2012 aged just 22 (and has been re-elected three times). He’s also gay, and the primary campaign got personal three weeks ago when accusations against the younger man were made public.

A letter published in the University of Massachusetts student newspaper, written by the local Amherst College Democrats chapter, accused Morse of using his position as mayor and as a part-time lecturer at the university to pursue relationships with students. In the letter, they barred Morse from attending their events.

Related: Gay candidate who slept with students says people calling for him to drop out are being homophobic

Morse swiftly responded, acknowledging that he had had relationships with some students, but none of the individuals concerned were in his classes at college and all romantic and sexual relationships had been fully consensual. He apologized, “to anyone I have made feel uncomfortable.”

“I want to be clear that every relationship I’ve had has been consensual.”

He later went on to deny behaving inappropriately: “I have never used my position of power as Mayor and UMass lecturer for romantic or sexual gain, or to take advantage of students. I have never violated UMass policy. Any claim to the contrary is false.”

The Intercept later reported that it had found evidence of leading figures in the college’s Democratic groups discussing ways in which Morse’s campaign against Neal could be derailed going back to last October. It said leaders of the group favored Neal as a candidate.

That report was swiftly followed by a letter of apology from the Amherst College Democrats – now under new leadership – to Morse.

“We want to tell you that we are deeply sorry for the distress that the public reaction to the letter must have caused you … we should have realized that the language of the letter was careless and played into homophobic stereotypes that have been used to oppress gay men in politics. We understand that no apology of ours can make up for the homophobic attacks you have suffered as a result of our actions; nonetheless, we wish to apologize.”

Related: College Democrats apologize for smears against gay candidate Alex Morse

Morse tried to re-focus his campaign on opposing Neal’s politics. This included accusing the older candidate of acting too slowly in his Congressional committee role in forcing Trump’s tax returns to be made public and in cozying up too closely with his corporate contributors.

Associated Press called the Primary at 9.42pm, estimating Neal had around 60% of the vote and Morse 40%.

Afterward, Morse conceded defeat. In a speech, he thanked his supporters and family for their help during the campaign and congratulated Neal on his victory. However, he also took the opportunity to highlight the many millions of dollars from corporate supporters Neal had spent on his campaign.

Morse went on to say, “As many of you know, this campaign took a little bit of a turn in the last few weeks. We have been organizing for months … and the day before early voting began, we saw a coordinated, political attack that goes all the way up to Washington DC. We have to send a message loud and clear that these kinds of tactics in our community are unacceptable. They’re unacceptable for all of us and we deserve better.”

You can watch the speech from the 9.45 mark below, while his comment about the allegations start at 18.30.

Morse’s supporters believe the controversy over his dating history impacted his campaign at a crucial time.

Morse was being backed by the LGBTQ Victory Fund – a fundraising group for LGBTQ political candidates. Its President and CEO, Annise Parker, said the personal attacks on Morse had played a part in the primary result.

“The efforts to sensationalize and weaponize Alex’s sexual orientation certainly influenced the outcome of this race, but the backlash it engendered should give pause to those considering similar tactics in the future,” she said in a press release.

“We are grateful Alex stayed in the race and took the body blows necessary to expose the double standards too often placed on LGBTQ candidates. His campaign contributed to a larger conversation about how candidates of color, women candidates and LGBTQ candidates face a level of scrutiny and sensationalism that straight white cisgender men simply do not.

“LGBTQ candidates are facing a growing number of homophobic and transphobic attacks this year and whether they succeed or fail will set an important precedent for the future.”