Jeff Turco says he’s a ‘moderate Democrat.’ Reproductive rights groups say he’s a ‘threat.’

The Democratic nominee in the special election to replace Massachusetts House Speaker Bob DeLeo voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and opposes abortion. One local pro-choice group is already looking for a 2022 primary challenger.

Jeff Turco
Jeff Turco, Democratic nominee in the 19th Suffolk District special election. –Photo provided by Turco campaign.

One of former Massachusetts House Speaker Bob DeLeo’s last acts in office was to override Gov. Charlie Baker’s veto of a bill expanding abortion rights.

Now, reproductive rights groups say the Winthrop Democrat who won the special election primary Tuesday night for DeLeo’s old House seat is a “threat” to that same bill-turned-law, as well as abortion rights more generally.

According to unofficial election results, Winthrop attorney and former town council president Jeff Turco received 36 percent of the vote to win the tumultuous four-way Democratic primary Tuesday in the 19th Suffolk District special election to succeed DeLeo, who recently stepped down to take a job at Northeastern.

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A self-described “John F. Kennedy Democrat” who was endorsed by local police and fire department leaders, Turco defeated Revere union representative Juan Jaramillo — who was endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Ayanna Pressley — as well as two other candidates from Winthrop (the heavily Democratic district covers all of Winthrop and about half of Revere).

After the win, Turco highlighted his focus on addressing substance-use disorders, housing, and vocational education in an interview with Revere TV. While he opposes raising the gas tax, Turco also said during a recent candidate forum that he supports a proposed 4 percent tax on annual income over $1 million, extending the MBTA Blue Line, and lowering public transit fares.

However, it’s his pro-life stance on abortion issues and history of supporting Republicans, including President Donald Trump in 2016, and posting conservative memes on Facebook that have the top reproductive rights groups in Massachusetts outraged.

The Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts pledged Tuesday night to support a 2022 primary challenger against Turco if he wins the general special election on March 30.

“Jeff Turco is dangerous and has no place on Beacon Hill,” the group tweeted. “And if he wins, we’ll be there in 2022 to primary him and elect a candidate who will champion the sexual and reproductive rights of their community.”

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Rebecca Hart Holder, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, said she was “dismayed” by Turco’s victory.

“He is a threat to the ROE Act and reproductive freedom who will work to undermine the many victories we achieved for women and pregnant people during Speaker DeLeo’s tenure,” Holder said in a statement Tuesday night, referring to the abortions rights law that was passed last December with overwhelming majority support in both legislative chambers.

In response to the criticism, Turco pointed to his work to elect Democrats dating back to the 1980s, even if he doesn’t agree with the party platform on abortion rights.

“While I am personally pro-life, I have said time and again that Roe v. Wade is settled law,” he told Boston.com.

In a Facebook post Wednesday afternoon, Turco said he was “proud to be a working class, moderate Democrat.”

“Yes, we do still exist,” he wrote. “I will work hard to make sure the Massachusetts Democrat Party is a big tent which welcomes back the over 50% of the voting public turned off by litmus tests and online hate and have chosen to register as unenrolled. These people are our friends, families, and neighbors. We need to welcome them home.”

However, groups like NARAL, which worked to highlight Turco’s political history during the primary campaign, say Turco is more conservative than he’s presenting.

In years-old Facebook posts, he called former President Barack Obama “mentally challenged” and referred to Sen. Elizabeth Warren as a “hypocrite.” Turco has also defended voting for Trump in 2016, arguing that Hillary Clinton is “not a truthteller” and that he opposed her policies. As recently as 2019, Turco posted a meme praising Trump for a letter he sent U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during a government shutdown.

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During the 2020 campaign cycle Turco donated $200 to the campaign of Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican in 2020, as well as another $200 to the GOP fundraising organization WinRed. His wife also donated $300 to Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican.

“Jeffrey Turco wants you to believe that he’s a moderate Democrat,” Holder said. “But his Facebook page tells the truth: he is an ardent anti-choice Trump supporter who regularly shares offensive, far-right rhetoric.”

Turco says he voted for President Joe Biden in the 2020 election, after supporting Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar in the Democratic presidential primaries.

Turco will face Republican candidate Paul Caruccio and independent candidate Richard Fucillo in the March 30 general election. The Massachusetts Democratic Party says they are not providing Turco any support in the race, and have not been asked for any support.

“If the Turco campaign did reach out for Party support, we would evaluate that request pursuant to established rules of the State Committee,” Gus Bickford, the state party’s chair, told Boston.com in a statement.

It’s unclear whether Turco would clear those rules, given his recent history of donations to Republican campaigns. The state Democratic party by-laws say that “no party resources shall be used to support a Democratic nominee who publicly supports the opponent of another Democratic nominee.”

For his part, Turco says the party should be embracing candidates like himself, and that he will try to win over supporters of his opponent.

“Yesterday proved that there is a place for a moderate Democrat in today’s party,” Turco said Wednesday. “I will work hard every day to make those who supported me proud of their trust and I will work equally hard to represent and earn the trust of those who supported one of the other candidates in this race.”

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