Is Seth Moulton a Shoe-In?

There is a sense among some folks that Seth Moulton ended the District 6 drama with his insurgent primary victory over incumbent Congressman John Tierney last week. Whereas Tierney was expected to have an uphill climb toward re-election, against second-time Republican foe Richard Tisei, Moulton is presumed to be packing his bags for Washington already.

Two polls reported Tuesday, though of dubious provenance, seem to verify that thinking. One, from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), finds Moulton ahead of Tisei 49 percent to 41 percent. The other, from pro-Moulton 314 PAC, has Moulton’s lead at a gaping 49 percent to 31 percent.

But those polls, even if close to accurate, were measuring opinion just as Moulton was benefiting from a tsunami of positive media coverage from his surprising primary victory last week. Those numbers could easily represent the peak of his popularity before the general voting public get more information on both candidates.

A different story is told in an internal campaign memo written by Tisei campaign manager Ryan Gough, dated Monday. It points out that Democrats Elizabeth Warren, Ed Markey, Martha Coakley, and Deval Patrick have all lost to Republicans within the current outline of the 6th Congressional districts. Tisei, the memo goes on, has been raising money, opening campaign offices, and doing voter outreach while Moulton engaged in a costly and bitter primary. Tisei thus enters the general election with a head start, including twice the cash on hand of Moulton.

This is a bit too rosy an assessment as well. From what I can tell, the Democratic Party has unified quickly around Moulton, meaning that the $350,000 in general-election funds he starts with will grow very quickly. Plus, Moulton will get the benefit of the field operation of the party and its friends. And the initial evidence suggests that the pummeling attack ads from Tierney did little harm to Moulton—they might even have helped him by accusing him of not being a strict partisan Democrat.

And Scott Ferson, a consultant for Moulton, aptly notes that it says something troubling about Tisei that he lost to Tierney in 2012, in a district where Scott Brown, Gabriel Gomez, Scott Brown, and Charlie Baker were all able to beat the above-mentioned Democrats. Why couldn’t Tisei do it?

On the other hand, almost everyone I talk to expects Baker to beat Coakley in the district, and probably by more than Baker beat Patrick in 2010. So, Moulton will need a considerable number of voters to split between the Republican for Governor and the Democrat for Congress.

All in all, the field probably tilts a bit toward Moulton. But if this were really a blowout, you would expect outside groups—most notably the DCCC and its equivalent across the aisle, the National Republican Congressional Committee—to withdraw the combined $3 million+ they’ve reserved for TV ads, some of which might be for New Hampshire races, but most of which is meant for the Massachusetts 6th. My conversations with people on both sides suggests otherwise.

In fact, I actually expect even more outside money to pour into this race now. And several million dollars worth of advertising can have a considerable impact. This race may yet end in a lopsided win for Moulton, but I wouldn’t count on it just yet.