Koh to Trahan: prove you didn’t break law, and I won’t run

The debate for the Third District was held at Fitchburg State University’s Conlon Fine Arts building on Wednesday night in Fitchburg. Answering questions is candidate for the Third District seat Dan Koh. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE/JOHN LOVE
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Dan Koh is challenging U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan to release the bank statements and other documents at the center of a federal election spending investigation.

If those documents show she didn’t run afoul of campaign reporting laws, Koh says he won’t run against her again in 2020.

“I believe the residents of the 3rd Congressional District deserve honesty and transparency from their elected officials, especially at a time when trust in government is threatened on a daily basis by the Trump administration,” Koh said in a Thursday afternoon statement. “The lack of transparency relative to Congresswoman Trahan’s potential breaking of the law to win an election has caused many residents of the district great concern, and I conducted a poll to get a better sense of the public’s opinions on this and many other important issues.

“There is a simple way for Congresswoman Trahan to restore trust and put this issue behind her — release all of the relevant documents,” the Andover Democrat’s statement continued. “If Congresswoman Trahan releases the bank statements as well as the full client list from 2018 that is at the center of this ethics investigation, and it proves she did nothing wrong, I will not run.”

Earlier this week, Koh ran a text poll as part of his testing the waters for a potential rematch against Trahan.

Koh, now an Andover selectman, narrowly lost the race for the congressional seat to Westford’s Trahan last year — coming up just 145 votes short after a recount.

Koh is zeroing in on campaign finance issues that have dogged Trahan. The representative is facing complaints from watchdogs over the $371,000 she reportedly loaned her campaign, including a significant infusion in the two weeks before the September primary.

“Dan Koh managed to lose last year, despite leading in the polls and outspending Lori Trahan by more than $2 million,” a spokesperson for the Trahan campaign said in a statement. “Since then, Lori Trahan has become part of a record-setting number of women in Congress that have blocked Donald Trump’s right-wing agenda, championed the Green New Deal, and stood up for a woman’s right to choose.

“Dan Koh has been playing politics for months because he thinks he’s entitled to serve in Congress,” the Trahan campaign statement continued. “It speaks volumes that Dan Koh’s first poll in the campaign is 100 percent negative and doesn’t test any positive message about himself; he doesn’t have anything positive to say about why he should be in Congress. We are happy to take our case to the voters.”

But University of Massachusetts Lowell political science professor John Cluverius said he doesn’t believe the campaign finance issues are a significant problem for Trahan, adding Trahan could counter with questions “about the substantial amount of out-of-district Boston developer money that Koh ran with.”

In the current election cycle, Koh began taking aim at Trahan by pushing her to support impeachment proceedings against President Trump, criticizing her on Twitter in early July and following it up with an op-ed in the Lowell Sun the day of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony before Congress. Trahan announced her support for impeachment proceedings later that day, pinning her decision on Mueller’s testimony.

Still, a rematch between the two top vote-getters in last year’s 10-way primary could be an uphill battle for Koh.

Though an Andover politician now, Koh remains largely known for being chief of staff to Mayor Martin Walsh. He remains without a built-in base in the 3rd District, casting him as the outsider against not just an incumbent, but a native of Lowell, the district’s longtime seat of power.

Koh is seen as more progressive than Trahan, but running an insurgent-style campaign along the lines of U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley’s defeat of incumbent Michael Capuano could also be problematic. Unlike Pressley, Koh would be trying to unseat a woman at a time when Democrats are pushing for more women in Congress.

And while Koh could make gains in a majority-minority community such as Lawrence — where Trahan has worked to make inroads after underperforming in the primary — swaths of the 3rd District that stretches from Haverhill to Maynard remain more moderate than Pressley’s urban 7th District.

“He’s going to have to establish a clear reason as to why people should get rid of Lori Trahan,” Cluverius said