BOSTON (AP) - For months, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal has toured the towns of western Massachusetts that make up the newly drawn 1st District he's running against two fellow Democrats to represent. He began scouting out the area in November and said he's visited nearly every one since the finalized district map was announced.
In his 12 terms as 2nd District congressman, Neal has been representing about half the area. The new 1st District created after population losses cost the state a congressional seat gives him new territory to learn, as well as his first contested election in years.
The district includes 87 cities and towns that stretch from Williamstown in the northwest corner of the state to Dudley on the border of Connecticut in central Massachusetts.
The winner of Thursday's Democratic primary will likely go on to Congress, as there is no Republican candidate in the district. The district's current congressman, John Olver, is retiring.
Neal has far more money to spend than his opponents in Thursday's Democratic primary. He has more than $2.2 million in cash on hand, according to the most recent financial disclosure forms filed with the Federal Elections Commission, compared with $100,000 for former state senator Andrea Nuciforo Jr. and $5,000 for humorist and activist Bill Shein.
Neal defended himself against criticism that he's accepted campaign contributions from political action committees and lobbyists, pointing out that donations have come from groups with special interests in Massachusetts, like teachers, blue-collar workers and hospital associations.
"People think that I take a judicious view of the big issues of the day and that I'm approachable," Neal said of his ability to raise money. "I do seriously weigh the issues that come to me."
Neal, who was first elected to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1988, serves on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, which works on issues including taxes, tariffs, trade and Social Security. He is also the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures. Tax policy, economic development, higher education, energy costs and manufacturing are high-priority issues for his campaign.
Supporters point to his years of experience as an advantage to serving the district's needs.
"It's easy to say that you want to run against a congressman because Congress doesn't have the best reputation. Here's a guy who's been here for 24 years and that has the seniority that you need to do things in the district," said Steven Como, a Pittsfield resident and executive vice president of Soldier On, at one of Neal's campaign stops Wednesday.
Far outweighed in campaign cash, both Nuciforo and Shein said they are using grassroots tactics to reach voters.
Shein, who helped organize Occupy events in the Berkshires, said he has been going door-to-door to meet with voters. He said his campaign has also relied a lot on networking among voters and social media.
The Alford writer focuses on limiting corporate money in politics, environmental issues and economic development.
Nuciforo, a fellow Berkshire County resident who served in the state Senate for a decade, said his campaign is focused on restoring regulations on Wall Street, creating economic opportunities and confronting what he called "tea party extremism" on issues like Medicare and Social Security.
Born and raised in Pittsfield, Nuciforo said he has been positively received by voters, especially those who are sick of Washington politics.
"This is a year where voters want a strong Democrat," he said. "You can't change the game in Washington unless you change the players."