BOSTON — U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton says he's confident about his chances of beating President Donald Trump in 2020, even as polls show him trailing far behind other Democrats in the race.
"We're not showing well in the polls yet, but what I'm hearing from people on the ground is different," the third-term Salem Democrat told about 50 people at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute Thursday night, recalling his underdog primary win against Rep. John Tierney more than four years ago. "I'm not concerned, but I'm also not naive. It's a crowded field."
Moulton, 40, criticized Trump as a threat to the nation and reiterated that he supports impeachment proceedings against the president in the House of Representatives.
"I think the biggest takeaway from the Mueller report is that Vladimir Putin of Russia wanted Donald Trump elected," he said. "Every American should want to know why that is the case."
The Marine Corps veteran served four tours in Iraq and recently revealed his own struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder to highlight the issue of mental health among vets.
Moulton said he started going to a therapist shortly after returning home from the war, haunted by images of an injured Iraqi boy he saw lying in the middle of the road as his platoon passed.
"There are things that I saw and had to do that will be with me for the rest of my life. It took me a while to realize that I needed to deal with it," he said during the hour-and-a-half, question-and-answer event. The forum was part of the institute’s "Getting to the Point" series, featuring town hall-like interviews with presidential candidates.
Moulton’s mental health plan would require annual mental health exams for active-duty military and veterans, screenings for high school students and a nationwide mental health crisis hotline for vets.
His plan would also double the number of Defense Department mental health professionals and increase the federal mental health budget by $500 million.
Moulton's presidential campaign has focused heavily on national security and foreign affairs, areas he says have received little attention from other Democrats in the race for the nomination.
"I'm pretty much the only candidate talking about national security," he said. "I'm going continue to make my case to the American people about why national security matters."
Moulton graduated from Harvard in 2001 with a physics degree and went directly into the Marines. He served four tours as an officer in Iraq, receiving a Bronze Star and other commendations for valor.
He was elected to Congress in 2014, after toppling nine-term incumbent Rep. John Tierney and beating Republican Richard Tisei with 55% of the vote in the general election. He has won re-election twice.
But Moulton has struggled to gain traction in a crowded field of 23 Democrats running for president, barely registering in any of the national or early state polls.
Moulton is also likely to sit out the first debate of the primary season, to be held June 26 and 27 in Florida, after failing to meet the Democratic National Committee's polling and fundraising thresholds.
The party's rules required candidates to raise money from more than 65,000 unique donors or get at least 1 percent of support in three DNC-approved polls to get on the debate stage.
At Thursday night's appearance, Moulton downplayed the significance of participating in the debates and suggested the large number of candidates won't allow any one to stand out.
"The outcome of this election isn't going to be decided by the 20 people who attend the first DNC debate," he said. "It's going to be decided by the American voters."
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.