Moulton’s run for president could hurt his re-election chances

Sixth District congressman Seth Moulton is interviewed by Sun editorial board. (SUN/Julia Malakie)

Now that Seth Moulton has dropped out of the 2020 presidential race, he plans to focus on running for re-election to his 6th District Congressional seat.

He’ll find the political landscape back home has changed dramatically since he made the ill-advised decision in April to enter the crowded field of Democratic candidates seeking to oust President Donald Trump.

The Salem Rep, U.S. Marine veteran and Harvard grad said he “can’t wait to get back at it” when he announced both his decisions Friday morning. To many, his virtually under-the-radar presidential run has suddenly made him vulnerable, and probably hastened his decision to join Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper as former presidential candidates.

It’s certain his lack of presidential traction has given aid and comfort to the growing list of actual and potential 6th District rivals, all obviously emboldened by Moulton’s inability to attract any support from Democrats across the country.

Just how innocuous was his campaign? When New Hampshire voters were asked in a recent Franklin Pierce University- Boston Herald poll to name any of the 20-plus presidential candidates, Moulton’s name barely registered, eliciting a response of just .5% of those surveyed.

That’s despite his well-publicized but unsuccessful efforts to unseat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which turned out to be another ill-conceived – at least politically – decision.

And now Moulton will discover if his 6th District constituents will simply dismiss his presidential aspirations as an ambitious overreach, or make him pay for totally miscalculating his political relevance.

Of course, his announced and fence-sitting Democrat 6th District challengers are counting on the latter reaction.

Already, Salem City Councilor Lisa Peterson and Salem State University Trustee Jane Zahlaway Belsitohave announced their intention to run. But more imposing adversaries could materialize, including Salem’s John Tierney, the longtime U.S. rep that Moulton toppled in 2014, and former State Sen. Barbara L’Italien of Andover, a 6th District resident who ran a strong campaign in last year’s 3rd District race won by Lori Trahan.

Also in waiting in the wings are Marblehead State Rep. Lori Ehrlich, Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, and gun reform advocate Angus McQuilken.

Despite his non-factor primary run, Moulton believes he’s a better person for the experience. For the first time, he publicly talked about his battle with post-traumatic stress from his four combat tours in Iraq, and the help he sought to deal with it.

It was his hope that an admission by someone in the public arena would encourage other veterans to seek the help they need.

Whatever the benefits, his primary experience left pundits and everyday residents of the 6th District wondering if Moulton’s presidential missteps have derailed what appeared only a few months ago to be an inevitable, ascending political career.

Since then, while his political fortunes have foundered, it’s now all but certain that another Massachusetts congressman, Joseph Kennedy III, will challenge incumbent U.S. Sen. Ed Markey.

Kennedy’s timing – and political pedigree – puts him in a far more favorable position to succeed.

So, it’s now up to the voters of the 6th District — which includes the communities of Billerica, Tewksbury, Wilmington, Bedford and Burlington — to determine whether Seth Moulton’s unrealistic political ambitions represent nothing more than the temporary setback he seems to believe.