Among the challenges facing Massachusetts U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, who announced this week he’s joining the crowded field of Democratic candidates for president, is the fact that he’s not well-known.
It’s a fact the North Shore politician is well aware of.
Speaking at the Politics & Eggs breakfast Wednesday in Bedford, New Hampshire, Moulton began with a story about touring a company recently in his own district. He said he met with employees and invited them to ask him questions.
“I said, you know, part of my job is take tough questions,” Moulton told the gathered business and political leaders. “You can ask even really difficult questions. And there was still silence. And then finally, someone in the way back of the room raised her hand, and she said, ‘Who are you?’ ”
The Bedford crowd laughed.
Self-deprecation can be funny. But the joke illustrates the serious challenge facing Moulton: How does a two-term congressman with a thin legislative record stand out in a field of 19 candidates — one that will grow to 20 Thursday when former Vice President Joe Biden jumps in?
Moulton says he’ll do it by focusing on a set of issues that the other candidates aren’t talking much about.
“I am going to talk about how we lead with moral authority around the globe,” he said. “I’m going to confront President Trump on these issues of safety and security, on leadership around the globe, where I think he’s weakest.”
Moulton is a U.S. Marine veteran who served four tours in Iraq — fighting a war that he says was sold to him and the rest of America on the basis of a lie.
“I was so proud to serve the country, but then we realized that our leaders in Washington hadn’t sent us there for the right reasons,” he said. “I felt that feeling of betrayal as I traveled around the country, but especially to the districts that voted for our president.”
He wants to put a commitment to public service, moral values and foreign policy at the center of his long-shot bid to win the nomination and challenge Trump.
Peter Ubertaccio, a political scientist and dean at Stonehill College, doubts it’s a viable strategy to win the nomination.
“Absent a major crisis that galvanizes everyone’s attention, I don’t think so,” he said.
Ubertaccio says Democratic primary voters care more about issues like health care, taxes and paying for college than foreign policy.
“I don’t think foreign policy is going to register very high for Democratic primary voters,” he said. “And if Joe Biden gets into the race, Moulton will have a hard time claiming that he’s the only one who brings foreign policy expertise to the field.”
Moulton has called for a new generation of leadership, but his failed effort to block Nancy Pelosi from becoming speaker of the House did not land well with many in his own party.
In New Hampshire on Wednesday, he was asked pointedly, “If you couldn’t get Democrats to go along with you on that, how are you going to get them to vote for you in the primary?”
“Well, I think we need a nominee who’s willing to stand up to the Washington establishment,” Moulton replied. “As I’ve traveled around this country, I haven’t met a single Democrat who said, ‘You know, Seth, I just wish you were in line with the establishment a little bit more.’ People are frustrated with Washington.”
People like Hope Zabar, one of Moulton’s constituents from Swampscott, Massachusetts, who drove up to New Hampshire to hear him. Zabar says she’s moved by Moulton’s commitment to patriotism and service — and to changing the tone in Washington.
“And I think he appeals to people who just feel that we are so distraught about what our country is going through and the divisiveness,” Zabar said. “I want to be proud of my country, and I think I heard the change that we need in our our country right now.”
Politically, Moulton is something of a hybrid. On issues like health care he’s a moderate: He supports a single-payer option, but opposes Medicare for All, which many in the Democratic field favor.
But on the question of whether Trump should be impeached, he’s with the progressive wing of his party. Here’s what he told reporters Wednesday: “We should just know why the greatest enemy of the United States for the last 60 years wanted Donald Trump elected president.”
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation concluded the Trump campaign did not conspire with the Russians, but it did not absolve the president of obstruction. Moulton says Trump did obstruct justice, and is guilty of dereliction of duty, and that Democrats should have begun impeachment proceedings months ago.
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.