Because being an adult means that sometimes you should admit you were wrong, here’s a mea culpa—I was a little too hasty in jumping to conclusions about the allegations against progressive Congressional candidate Alex Morse, who was accused by the College Democrats of Massachusetts of, as they put it in a letter, “inappropriate sexual relations with college students before and during his congressional campaign” and of abusing his position as mayor and a candidate for Congress “for romantic or sexual gain.” Now, based on reporting by the Intercept, it turns out that the claims made by the College Democrats of Massachusetts were part of a concerted attempt to, as the former president put it, “sink his campaign.” Moreover, some of the allegations detailed in the letter—particularly the accusation that the group had received “countless stories” of Morse sliding into students’ Instagram DMs after attending the group’s events—appear to be overblown.
The Intercept obtained chat logs between members of the UMass Amherst College Democrats and Morse; based on those logs, the leadership of the chapter started chatting in 2019 about, as the Intercept put it, “leaking a story damaging to Morse” that would benefit the powerful long-term incumbent Democrat, Richard Neal.
From the Intercept, emphasis my own:
Timothy Ennis, the chief strategist for the UMass Amherst College Democrats, admitted in the chats that he was a “Neal Stan” and said he felt conflicted about involving the chapter of the College Democrats in a future attack on Morse. “But I need a job,” concluded Ennis. “Neal will give me an internship.” At the time, Ennis was president of the chapter, a post he held from April 2019 to April 2020, when he was term-limited out.
Leaders of the College Democrats group went beyond merely plans to leak. They also explicitly discussed how they could find Morse’s dating profiles and then lead him into saying something incriminating that would then damage his campaign.
Ennis said in the chats that Morse had never matched with him or messaged him, but discussed an effort to find him and match.
They found his Tinder profile, but it appears nothing came from their plan.
But there was one interaction Morse had with a leader of the student group that they seized upon. Far from having “countless stories” of Morse sending Instagram DMs to college students he met at events, as the original letter declared, it appears that claim was largely based on the interaction Morse had with Andrew Abramson, who became president of the UMass Amherst College Democrats in April. More, from the Intercept:
On October 5, Morse attended a College Democrats event at a local community college. Neal also appeared, and was introduced by Ennis, who was at the time enrolled in a journalism class Neal taught at UMass Amherst. Neal later told Ennis he was impressed by the event, Ennis claimed in the chats. Morse sat on a panel with Abramson. After the event, Morse reached out to Abramson on Instagram to say it was a pleasure meeting. (The two had previously matched on Tinder, Ennis said in the chats, but had never met up. To match on Tinder means both parties must swipe in the same direction in order to begin a conversation.)
“Thank you! Good to see you too,” Abramson said.
“How’s the rest of your weekend?” asked Morse.
“Pretty good I went home last night to surprise my mom for her birthday hbu?” Abramson said .
“Aw that’s nice. How was that? I had an event to go to last night to speak, then had a wine tasting at a friends house. Now I’m in North Adams to march in a parade,” Morse replied.
Abramson shared a screenshot of the exchange with friends. “Not overt but it’s very clear he’s not talking to me for no reason,” he said. “Like read that message. Also don’t mind me totally leading him on.” He added that he accepted the message request “because why not.”
The two continued chatting for a few weeks, according to the Intercept. And it appears that Ennis, the previous president of the chapter, decided to take this interaction and use it against Morse, sending it to Politico, which declined to publish a story at the time. “This will sink his campaign,” Ennis said, according to the Intercept.
But as it turns out, the students may now be the ones sunk, politically at least. As Politico reported, the chair of the state’s Democratic Party, Gus Bickford, is now “intend[ing] to convene a group to examine the conduct of college Democrats who leveled the allegations against Morse.”
Which is not to say that Morse didn’t engage in some dumb behavior. I continue to believe that it’s an extremely bad look, for both ethical and practical political reasons, for an elected official and professor (Morse was an adjunct at UMass Amherst until the 2019 fall semester) to hook up with college students, even if they are not students in his classes and even if those relationships are consensual. (Why give your opponents anything they can spin as dirt, for one?) But it seems obvious that the leaders of the UMass College Democrats were trying to smear Morse, a gay man, as some sort of sexual predator in an effort to tank his campaign and, in the case of Ennis, further his own political career. Unfortunately for them, their campaign seems to have only benefited Morse—according to Morse, he’s had his best fundraising week of his entire campaign.