LOWELL -- Defeating incumbent U.S. Rep. John Tierney was a big hurdle for political newcomer Seth Moulton.
But now that he has taken the 18-year congressman out of the race in the Democratic primary, Moulton's facing a new challenge for the 6th Congressional District seat -- Republican Richard Tisei, who came within a percentage point of defeating Tierney two years ago in the general election.
Tisei served in the state Legislature for 26 years, doing stints in the House and Senate, and rising to Senate minority leader. He stepped down in 2010 to run for lieutenant governor on the GOP ticket with gubernatorial nominee Charlie Baker.
"In many ways, the choice that voters made in the primary was to choose someone who brought new ideas and fresh leadership to Washington, as opposed to a career politician," Moulton said in an interview with The Sun's editorial board Friday. "And, really, that's the same choice we have in the general election. I'm running against a longtime Republican career politician, and I think voters are ready for new leadership.
"It's career politicians who have gridlocked Washington, D.C., and have led to the hyper-partisanship that means that nothing is getting done."
For months, Moulton, 35, has hammered home his status as a political newcomer.
He's a U.S. Marine veteran who served four tours in the Iraq War, a businessman who has experience working on public-private partnerships, and a Harvard graduate who's still paying off student loans. That perspective, he said, is his best asset.
The race between Moulton and Tisei is expected to be tight. Nevertheless, some polls show Moulton with a significant lead, while others indicate the race is well within the margin of error.
The diverse 6th District includes the North Shore cities of Beverly, Gloucester, Lynn, Newburyport, Peabody and Salem, as well as the Middlesex County communities of Bedford, Billerica, Burlington, North Reading, Reading, Tewksbury, Wakefield and Wilmington. The population of the district is 750,623 and the median annual family income is $76,182, according to federal census data from 2011.
The candidates will face off in a debate, co-sponsored by The Sun and The Salem News, at 7 p.m. on Oct. 23 at Danvers High School.
If elected, Moulton said the first thing he'd do is file legislation reforming the Veterans Affairs health-care system, from which he receives his own health care.
"We haven't even seen the beginning of the effects of this war, and if the VA can't handle today's veterans now, it's only going to get far, far worse," he said.
He said he'd work to pass legislation ensuring the VA provides better mental-health care, revamp the claims process, and enable veterans who don't have access to a good VA hospital to go to private facilities.
"Veterans can be a part of getting this country back on track, of rebuilding our economy and serving the country again," Moulton said. "A lot of veterans want to do that. We've got to make sure they get the health care they need."
Beyond veterans' issues, Moulton said he'd jump-start the economy by reforming the tax code and closing loopholes. He called himself "socially liberal, fiscally balanced."
"If we were able to close those loopholes, then we would actually be able to lower the corporate tax rate, and that would make American businesses more competitive across the globe, and it would be good for all the small-business owners in this district who are trying to make ends meet," Moulton said.
He's focused particularly hard on Lynn, where he said he wants to revitalize the city in the same way the late U.S. Sen. Paul Tsongas revitalized Lowell. Despite being criticized for misstating Tsongas's accomplishments in an interview last month, Moulton said Tsongas' work provides a blueprint for how a city can come out of hard times through strong leadership.
"One of the most important things that Paul Tsongas did is, he acted as a leader of economic development and a convener between the public-sector resources and the private sector to bring partnerships together that attracted businesses here, that attracted new development, and that's what can happen in Lynn," Moulton said. "Lynn has so much potential."
Moulton said he thinks his perspective as a veteran would be valuable in Congress at a time when there are few former soldiers serving there and the U.S. is facing several foreign-policy crises. He called the problem of the Islamic State a political problem, rather than a military one, and said he does not support sending ground troops to Iraq.
"At the end of the day, we've got to make sure that if we put any American ground troops into Iraq or Syria, it's only with a very clear strategy, and I don't see that today," he said.
Moulton said he's confident in his chances of winning the general election.
"I think the story of a young, pragmatic veteran taking on the career politician, whether it be in the primary or now in the general election, I think a lot of people are looking at that, especially young Americans who think that maybe it's time for a new generation of leadership in Washington, D.C.," he said.
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