3rd District Dem hopefuls contrast on Trump, campaign finance reform, in final forum

Third Congressional District candidates participate in a Monday night forum, organized by the League of Women Voters, at Chelmsford High School. From left are Lori Trahan, Dan Koh, Juana Matias, Alexandra Chandler, Bopha Malone, Jeff Ballinger, Leonard Golder, Rufus Gifford, Beej Das and Barbara L’Italien. sun/chris lisinski

CHELMSFORD — “Thank you to all of my colleagues for running a great campaign,” said Lori Trahan, looking down the table at her nine opponents in the 3rd Congressional District race. “This might be the last time we’re here together.”

Trahan might be right about all of the candidates participating in a single event: the Monday night forum at Chelmsford High School, organized by the League of Women voters, came just eight days before the 10-way Democratic primary. Now comes the last leg and a focus on getting out the vote.

But before then, there was time for perhaps one final forum, featuring many of the same dynamics that have driven this race to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas: politeness, disdain for the Trump administration, calls to remove money from politics — even in one of the most expensive House races in the country — and agreement on a range of progressive policies.

For all of the policy similarities the candidates have exhibited for almost a year, from near-universal support for single-payer health care to a widespread desire to repeal or rework last year’s Republican-driven tax cuts, Monday’s forum highlighted gaps in tone and background.

Dan Koh, who topped the most recent poll with 19 percent support, stood out as the most vocal critic of Donald Trump, naming impeachment of the president as his top goal if elected.

“My number-one priority would be standing up to President Trump and getting him the heck out of office,” Koh said. “I would join impeachment proceedings immediately.”

Other candidates did not spare any criticism, but in a clear contrast, none called for impeachment. Several made a point to stress that they would work well with Republicans in Congress or that they wanted to focus on other policy suggestions beyond standing up to the president.

“I led intelligence delegations in the Middle East as a transgender lesbian woman,” said Alexandra Chandler, drawing applause and cheers from the crowd of roughly 800. “I think I can work with Republicans in Congress.”

Rufus Gifford, who along with Barbara L’Italien placed second in last week’s poll with 13 percent support, hinted at his Barack Obama connections in his closing remarks, stressing an optimistic message.

“It’s not good enough just to stand up to Trump,” Gifford said. “We’ve got to stand for something. If we’re going to recapture the hearts and minds of Americans, we have to stand for big, bold, aspirational policies.”

Experience was a key difference Monday night, too, both personally and professionally. L’Italien noted her decade-plus as a state legislator, describing herself as the only one with the experience for the “serious, hard work” of Congress. Bopha Malone shared her “American dream” story of coming to the country as a Cambodian refugee, while Leonard Golder spoke about his perspective as someone who has sat on town boards.

Juana Matias is a state representative, too, and she also underlined her story immigrating to the United States as a child and growing up in a working-class family.

“We deserve someone who understands firsthand the challenges working- and middle-class families face,” Matias said.

Several candidates denounced the role of money in the race, one where candidates have raised millions of dollars while simultaneously calling for campaign finance reform. Jeff Ballinger called out both parties in Congress for working “to make corporations richer and rich people richer,” while Beej Das — himself a wealthy businessman who gave his campaign more than $325,000 — referenced his opponents drawing on the financial industry for support in one of the more pointed remarks of the night.

“A lot of candidates on either side of me have taken money from those institutions we want to regulate,” Das said.

The primary election is Sept. 4.

Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisLisinski