The Curious Case of Seth Moulton

These past few days suggest the Moulton/Tierney primary race is closer than it seems.

UPDATE Sept. 7: A poll conducted by a committee supporting Seth Moulton finds him with a very slight lead over John Tierney among likely Democratic primary voters. The lead of 47% to 45% (including leaners) is within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 4.0% — although it did not include three other candidates in the primary.

The IRV poll of 592 likely primary voters was conducted Wednesday and Thursday by Public Policy Polling for Forward Massachusetts, a federal independent expenditure committee formed last year to support Moulton.

The other three Democratic candidates accounted for roughly 6% of the vote in the Emerson College poll, suggesting that had they been included in the PPP poll, the results might have been very similar to that one, which shows Tierney with a three-point lead.

I would also note that Tierney’s get-out-the-vote advantage should be worth a few points on election day. Nevertheless, this is two polls showing a virtual dead heat, and momentum on Moulton’s side, heading into the final weekend.

Informed of this poll today, Dan Rubin of the Tierney campaign provided the following statement: “We remain confident that John Tierney will win on Tuesday and beat Republican Richard Tisei in the fall.”


When Iraq War veteran Seth Moulton announced his primary challenge to John Tierney in July 2013, I had two reactions. First, I made fun of the roaming camerawork in his announcement video. Second, I decided to keep an eye on the guy, because he could win a seat in Congress in 2016.

It looks like he might not have to wait that long.

What I thought, and have thought ever since up until today, is that Moulton would do better than expected in the 2014 primary—a losing, but solid showing, establishing himself in the North Shore district. He would then further acquit himself among Democrats by actively helping Tierney in the subsequent general election, which Tierney would likely lose to second-time Republican challenger Richard Tisei, especially after getting beaten up by Moulton in the primary.

That would put Moulton in a great position to run and, perhaps, win the 2016 Democratic primary to challenge the new Republican incumbent. And, in a Presidential election year, with a candidate unburdened by Tierney’s baggage (primarily, but not entirely, relating to his in-laws’ illegal gambling business shenanigans), the winner of that 2016 primary would likely beat Tisei and head to Washington.

I figured that was Moulton’s big plan, as he campaigned doggedly and raised money impressively for a year. And as he clearly began to gain traction in recent weeks, I thought that plan was playing out perfectly.

But things have taken on a different feel this week. In response to a somewhat unfair attack ad of Moulton’s, Tierney started running a very unfair attack ad against Moulton. That heavy-handed response suggested the following: A) Tierney had reason to be genuinely worried about Moulton; B) Tierney had no outside help willing to come in and do the attack for him; and C) Tierney has some bad strategists deciding how to do the hit.

The ad might hurt Moulton, but it’s also likely to turn a lot of voters away from wanting to help save Tierney, and tell the existing anti-Tierney voters that this is the guy to rally around. Moulton has already been helped on that front, as the other primary candidate likely to peel off votes—Marisa DeFranco—turned into a raving, incoherent attention hog sucking up to right-wing media.

Meanwhile, the newspaper endorsements have come in for Moulton, allowing him to add that stamp of approval to his closing message.

There has also been insider talk of polls showing Moulton’s numbers climbing. And, more late funding coming in for Moulton as hopes grew, but not much for Tierney as concerns were raised. Then, Friday morning, the Emerson College Polling Society released a poll showing Tierney with a mere 47-44 percent lead—within the 5 percent margin of error. DeFranco is barely a factor in the poll, at 4 percent.

The poll also shows Tierney in deep trouble for the general election, trailing Tisei 51-43 percent. Moulton, however, is beating Tisei 44-36 percent. That part’s not a big surprise: a solid Democrat without the Tierney baggage should win that district.

So, is it for real? I’m not sure. The one Emerson poll is probably overstating the closeness a little. (Remember, that margin of error can work the other way, too.) Democrats who saved Tierney from Tisei in 2012 are likely to stick with him, and independents who would vote Moulton are not likely to show up in huge numbers for Tuesday’s Democratic primary.

But I’m no longer dismissing the possibility that Moulton could really win this thing. Stay tuned.