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Merrimack Valley

July 11, 2014

Tierney challenge pivots on core Democrats, independents

Seth Moulton has three Harvard degrees, spent four tours of duty as a Marine in Iraq and has hired prominent campaign strategists. But is his Democratic Party fealty strong enough to topple longtime incumbent Congressman John Tierney in this fall’s primary?

That’s the question hardened Democrats and political observers are asking as the Sept. 9 ballot-box showdown between the two Salem residents draws near in the 6th District congressional race.

“He has an amazing biography,” observed Peter Ubertaccio, a political science professor at Stonehill College. “But biography can only take you so far when you’re challenging an incumbent who retains a lot of institutional support, as John Tierney does. You need to have the resources.”

Moulton, 35, has been a registered Democrat only since December 2012, voting records show. He was an independent or unenrolled voter before that.

Voting records in his hometown of Marblehead, in Salem where he lives now and in Cambridge, where he attended Harvard University, also show that he has skipped several major Democratic primaries and elections, including the 2010 election when Republican Scott Brown captured the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Edward M. Kennedy for nearly half a century.

Tierney, 62, is a longtime Democrat who first ran for Congress (and lost) in 1994, though voting records were readily available only as far back as 1996. He’s known as one of Washington’s most liberal lawmakers. But he barely won re-election two years ago against Republican nominee Richard Tisei, a former state senator, in a bare-knuckles race that focused on Tierney’s spousal ties to an illegal offshore gambling operation.

A battle-scarred Tierney won that election by a 1-point margin on the basis of core liberal support. President Obama captured the 6th District by 10 points. Tierney is still seen as vulnerable, and Democrats know that.

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