Joanna Weiss: There are generally two theories for why incumbents last so long in Congress. One is that their massive campaign war chests, built up over years of influence, make it next to impossible to challenge them.
The other is that voters, despite an oft-declared hatred of Congress, often decide that they like their own representatives just fine.
The primary in the Sixth Congressional District will be an interesting test of the second theory. It pits John Tierney, the most vulnerable member of the state delegation, against four challengers — most notably, Seth Moulton, who has raised plenty of campaign funds on his own.
If you were going to invent a formidable first-time politician, you’d probably come up with someone like Moulton: local (from Marblehead), smart (multiple Harvard degrees), sincerely dedicated to country (four tours as a Marine in Iraq, including a stint as a top aide to General David Petraeus). He has a vast network of deep-pocketed donors, many from out of state, and thus the wherewithal to launch an ad blitz that should come, very soon, to a TV near you. He has friends in high places: Retired General Stanley McChrystal stumped for him this week.
Tierney has friends, too, from local politicians up and down the chain to House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, who has helped steer national money his way. He also has baggage: a two-year-old gambling scandal involving his wife and brother-in-law, which voters knew about the last time they voted Tierney in.
Moulton tries not to talk about that. He acknowledges that he and Tierney agree on nearly every issue. But he argues that Tierney has been ineffective, on the grounds that he has passed only one bill in 18 years. That particular charge is unfair; there are many ways to influence legislation without putting your name on the bill. (Seniority is one: If Democrats ever regained the House, Tierney would be in line for a committee chairmanship.)
Moulton is far more convincing when he talks about his ideas — fresh takes on transportation and Lynn, a perspective that comes from time in the military and the private sector. The case for Moulton is a case for turnover, for churn, for a whole different model of Congress. The question is whether voters, who in 2012 were satisfied enough with Tierney to return him to office, would be willing to make a leap.
Read Joanna Weiss' full column here.