Gay mayor Alex Morse loses congressional bid after ‘homophobic Grindr smear campaign’

Mayor Alex Morse of Holyoke campaigns ahead of the September 1 primaries,

Gay progressive Alex Morse has failed in his primary challenge against a high-profile Democratic lawmaker, after a murky campaign that saw him allegedly targeted with homophobic smears.

Richard Neal, chair of the House of Representatives Ways and Means committee, saw off the challenge from Morse, the mayor of Holyoke, in Tuesday’s Massachusetts primary.

Alex Morse loses primary challenge after alleged plot to smear him.

The defeat for Morse comes after one of the ugliest primaries seen in 2020, with supporters of Neal orchestrating an alleged plot to smear Morse over his sex life, while shadowy attack ads were launched capitalising on the issue – though Neal has insisted he had no involvement.

Conceding the vote on Tuesday, Morse said: “I want to start off by congratulating congressman Richard Neal on winning his reelection tonight, but I also want to make it very clear how incredibly proud I am of what we fought for over the last 14 months.”

Mayor Alex Morse of Holyoke

Mayor Alex Morse of Holyoke (Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

A College Democrats group issued an apology to Morse shortly before the election for its role in a leaked letter accusing him of improperly pursuing sexual relationships through Grindr and Tinder with students “who were as young as 18 years old”.

The plot unravelled when left-wing outlet The Intercept published leaked chat logs which appear to show some College Democrats members and self-described “Neal stans” spending months discussing plans to smear Morse in order to win favour with Neal – with whom they hoped to secure internships.

Even as the claims fell apart, third-party TV adverts and push polls repeatedly targeted Morse on the issue – while subsequent revelations have also implicated some Massachusetts Democratic figures, who are accused of helping the students to produce a leaked letter that first detailed allegations.

Smears ‘influenced the outcome of this race’, LGBT+ campaigners say.

Annise Parker of LGBTQ Victory Fund said that the attacks”certainly influenced the outcome of this race”, but the backlash “should give pause to those considering similar tactics in the future”.

She said: “We are grateful Alex stayed in the race and took the body blows necessary to expose the double standards too often placed on LGBT+ candidates.

“His campaign contributed to a larger conversation about how candidates of colour, women candidates and LGBT+ candidates face a level of scrutiny and sensationalism that straight white cisgender men simply do not.

“LGBT+ 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.”

Parker continued: “While Alex’s loss is disappointing, it proved our community and our allies can respond forcefully in exposing the dog whistles and stereotypes that too often haunt LGBT+ candidates.

“We will not allow attacks on LGBT+ candidates to go unanswered during the final two months of this election cycle.

“We endorsed Alex for the US Congress because diverse representation in elected office is essential to inclusive policies and legislation.

“When LGBT+ people are in the halls of power, it influences the debates, changes hearts and minds, and advances equality for our community. We still have an opportunity to double the number of LGBT+ members of the US House this year – and we are ready to help make that happen.”