Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton has jumped into the crowded race for the Democratic presidential nomination, presenting himself as a candidate of generational change."The greatest generation saved our country from tyranny. It's time for our generation to step up and do the same," Moulton says in a video posted on YouTube Monday morning.
Moulton, a resident of Salem who represents the state’s 6th Congressional District north of Boston, is serving his third term in Congress. He's also a U.S. Marines veteran. In the video, he puts his commitment to public service and moral values at the center of his long-shot bid for the White House.
"Decades of division and corruption have broken our democracy. It's all led to an administration that's turned away from our values and is shedding our moral authority," Moulton says in the video.
"I'm running because we have to beat Donald Trump, and I want us to beat Donald Trump because I love this country."
Moulton has an impeccable resume that is matched by big political ambition. After graduating from Harvard University in 2001 with a Bachelor of Arts in physics, Moulton joined the U.S. Marines and served four tours in Iraq, and then went on to earn master’s degrees in business and public policy at the Harvard Business School and Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
From the start of his young political career, Moulton has been unafraid to challenge party orthodoxies, winning his first race for the U.S. House in 2014 by upending six-term Congressman John Tierney, who he branded as a hold-over from a tired Democratic Party in need of fresh blood.
“I’m not surprised that he’s opted to run,” said Peter Ubertacio, a political scientist and dean at Stonehill College. “But I’m not sure his campaign will be viable.”
Ubertacio gives Moulton credit for trying to “shake up and enliven” the Democratic Party, and says that some voters will find that “refreshing.” But he says Moulton is entering a crowded field, with little money and a relatively thin legislative record.
“There are a lot of folks who have better name recognition and are going to be better resourced than he is,” Ubertacio said. “I think it’s going to be a very tough climb for him to stand out from the rest of the pack in the Democratic field.”
Moulton has been building a national profile for some time, making an early visit to Iowa in the summer of 2017. Leading up to the 2018 mid-term elections, he raised more than $2.3 million through his Serve America PAC and traveled to more than a dozen states, endorsing a slate of military veterans running for Congress, many of whom prevailed, including Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania, Abby Finkenauer of Iowa and Susie Lee of Nevada. During that time, his message was consistent: his fellow-veterans represent “a new generation” and are ready to lead.
“Democrats are the party of the future,” Moulton told WBUR earlier this year.
“We should be legislating on things like privacy and social media. Right now, the Europeans are setting the rules of the game. We need to deal with the fact that our education system isn’t set up to respond to the demands of the automated workforce. And we need [leaders] who understand the tragedies of today – like gun violence.”
As Moulton pushed for change and new leadership within his own party, he co-led an effort to replace House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which many Democrats, including some of his own constituents, regarded as ill-advised and ham-fisted.
“He was right to talk about generational change in the House, but not this year,” said Scott Ferson, a Democratic political consultant who worked on Moulton’s first Congressional race in 2014. “I think it was very tone deaf to take on that battle, which may result in a primary challenge to him in 2020.”
In the end, Moulton ended up backing Pelosi for House Speaker after he and his fellow dissidents came to an agreement with the House leadership. Under the terms of the deal, Pelosi and three other top Democrats will be subjected to terms limits in their leadership positions.
“My goal has been to have party leadership that reflects the new generation of Democrats in our country and represents the people who voted for change on Election Day,” Moulton said.
But his campaign against Pelosi was widely regarded as a misstep, particularly among women, many of whom felt Pelosi deserved credit for helping Democrats re-take the House.
“The American people sent a clear message that we want women and people of color to lead,” said Isa Leshko, who was among a number of women who confronted Moulton at a town hall meeting in Amesbury following the midterm elections. “Seth Moulton is willing to risk all of that in order to oust Nancy Pelosi from her leadership role.”
But Moulton’s biggest challenge will be to distinguish himself among the current crop of Democratic presidential candidates, which is impressively diverse; it includes women, people of color and veterans, some of whom represent that new generation of leadership to which Moulton hopes to lay claim.
“When Seth Moulton shows up for the presidential race, he’s going to find Pete Buttigieg is standing in his lane,” said Scott Ferson, referring to the young mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who has been impressing Democratic Party regulars during the early days of the primary race.
Ferson points out that like Moulton, Buttigieg is a veteran with an impressive academic pedigree (he’s a Rhodes Scholar). But unlike Moulton, he comes from “a better part of the country for Democrats.”
“And frankly, he’s generated a ton of excitement.”
Moulton’s campaign has just begun, and he will need to do a lot to match that kind of excitement.
This report comes from the New England News Collaborative: eight public media companies, including The Public's Radio, coming together to tell the story of a changing region, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.