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Neal Tops Amatul-Wadud By 40 Points In 1st Congressional Race

Massachusetts Democratic U.S. Rep. Richard Neal defeated primary challenger Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, a Springfield attorney who hoped to become the first Muslim elected to Congress from Massachusetts.

Neal will run unopposed in November.

At his primary night party Tuesday at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Nancy Roy tended bar. She's from Connecticut, and isn't familiar with Neal.

But she's catered plenty of election night events, for winners and losers.

“Either way, they will be drinking,” Roy chuckled, “Whether they’re happy, or sad.”

But the party remained pretty sedate. And not many people were closely watching the results. The venue had no TVs.

But Patrick Collins, an 18-year-old campaign volunteer, was glued to his phone as the numbers came in. He liked what he saw when the election was called for Neal, a Springfield Democrat. It was the first campaign Collins had ever worked on.

“Just to see us win, especially with these great numbers,” Collins said. “Going into tonight I wasn’t so sure what was going to happen, and then early on I see those great numbers, I was like, ‘We’ve got this,’ and I’m just really happy about it.”

Neal was on track to beat challenger Tahirah Amatul-Wadud by nearly 40 points. Neal thanked his opponent in his victory speech, and touted his campaign tactics.

“Never to this day [did I] run a negative TV ad, never a recrimination,” Neal said. “Once again, we have been united by the principle that we tell them what we’re for.”

Neal is poised to keep his seat after the November election, with no Republican challengers. He's also on track become the next Ways and Means Committee chair, if Democrats take control of the House.

Neal said he'll spend his time until November trying to ensure that Democratic majority comes to fruition. He says he thinks there are 63 Democratic House candidates with a good shot of winning.

“I have helped every single one of them. I helped recruit them, I’ve helped them message, and I’ve worked with them on fundraising, as well,” Neal said during a brief press conference.

Collins, the campaign volunteer, grabbed a selfie with Neal after his victory speech.

And the bar? It never did get too busy.

'How lucky he is to serve this community'

A few hundred supporters and family members of Amatul-Wadud waited for almost an hour to see her after the primary was called for Neal.

When Amatul-Wadud came into her election night party at the Munich Haus restaurant in Chicopee, she told the crowd she had already called Neal to congratulate him on his win.

"I think about how lucky he is to serve this community," Amatul-Wadud said. "And I hope that he knows it."

While she said she wanted an electoral victory, she told her supporters, perhaps they did win in a way.

Her bravado nearly masked the overwhelming loss to Neal. But she said said months of campaigning will have been worth it, just to remind Neal that constituents will hold elected officials responsible and accountable.

"Richie Neal knows he needs to answer to his constituents now," said Sara Seinberg, an Amatul-Wadud supporter.

Seinberg lives in the tiny town of Leyden, Massachusetts, right at the Vermont border. It's a world away from Pittsfield and Springfield, and it's also in the 1st Congressional District.

Seinberg said she tried to reach Neal after the 2016 election to talk about health care, and no one from his office ever got back to her. She said she wants him to legislate, and to come into his district more often -- and not only to the cities.

"I want him to come to rural communities that he represents now, and see how does state-owned land affect the income of these towns? What about our schools? Our schools are closing," Seinberg said. "We don't have the internet! We don't have broadband in our town! [Neal] doesn't care. Maybe that's why he's not getting my email, I don't know."

As for Amatul-Wadud's next steps -- political or otherwise -- in the moments after announcing her loss, surrounded by family, she couldn't be too specific. But she isn't going anywhere, she said. She'll keep supporting and advocating for the community -- and those who tried to get her elected.

First, though, there are some very practical matters to address, including her law practice -- and her kids.

"Their lives have sort of been on hold," Amatul-Wadud said. After she takes care of those two things, "Then I'll know best where we're gong on a more global level," she said.

And off to the side, one of her kids told her he really wants to go to Six Flags.

Take a look at NEPR's Massachusetts Primary Election Results 2018.

Correction: The race was for the 1st Congressional District, not the 2nd as an earlier headline indicated.

Jill has been a reporter and host at NEPM since 2005. Before that she spent 10 years at WBUR in Boston, producing The Connection with Christopher Lydon, Morning Edition, reporting and hosting. In the months leading up to the 2000 presidential primary in New Hampshire, Jill hosted NHPR’s daily talk show The Exchange. Right before coming to NEPM, Jill was an editor at PRX's The World.
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