Seth Moulton’s decision to run for Congress was sparked on the battlefields of Iraq, where he witnessed the horrors of war and the cost of U.S. involvement in a conflict he and many others did not support.
“I’m not someone who grew up wanting to be a politician,” Moulton said during a recent interview, where he talked candidly about his military service. “But it was over there that I saw the consequences of failed leadership. Washington didn’t know what they were doing when they got us into Iraq — and didn’t have our backs when we were there.”
Moulton, 35, is running for the 6th Congressional District seat in Tuesday’s election after defeating nine-term incumbent Congressman John Tierney in the Democratic primary in September. He faces independent Chris Stockwell of Marblehead and Republican Richard Tisei, a former state senator who is making his second run for the seat.
Not surprisingly, Moulton’s campaign has focused on veterans’ issues. He has talked about reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs to support a generation of wounded veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Specifically, he has called for expanding VA healthcare access and quality, especially for those suffering from post-traumatic stress, by increasing funding for mental health care and streamlining the claims approval process.
“We’ve never had fewer veterans in Congress in our nation’s history, and there are no combat veterans representing Massachusetts,” he said. “We face crises around the world where that perspective would be valuable.”
Moulton said he supports President Obama’s plans to target Islamic insurgents in post-war Iraq and Syria, but he opposes the use of ground troops to deal with the threat. He believes Iraqis should take on a larger role.
“Fundamentally, the problem in Iraq is a political one more than a military problem,” he said. “If we just go in and solve the Iraqis’ military problem for them without dealing with the political one, I guarantee we’ll be back there again.”
If elected, Moulton said he will also focus on reforming the federal loan program for higher education, cracking down on unfair foreign trade practices, and advocating for investment in technology, clean energy and biotechnology industries.
Moulton’s transformation from an Ivy League grad to congressional candidate didn’t occur overnight.
After getting his bachelor’s degree from Harvard, he enlisted in the Marine Corps — only months before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — a decision that led to four tours of duty and a job as commander of an infantry platoon.
Moulton said he didn’t support the war but was inspired by mentors at Harvard and a desire to serve the country.
“I went because I didn’t want anyone to have to go in my place,” he said.
He was in the first Marine platoon to enter Baghdad during the war and was later awarded the Bronze Star for valor during the battle of Najaf, among other commendations.
After the Marines, he returned to Harvard, where he earned a master’s degree from the Kennedy School of Government and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
After graduating, he created a healthcare company with a few college friends, but the startup never really got off the ground. More recently, he worked for a firm building a high-speed railway between Dallas and Houston.
Two years ago, a group of Democrats seeking veterans to run for office encouraged him to challenge Tierney. Moulton decided the timing wasn’t right, mostly because the race was well underway. This year, he knocked off the incumbent by 8 points in the primary.W
Moulton has raised nearly $2.4 million for this election, according to his filings with the Federal Election Commission. As of mid-October he had $109,572 left in his campaign kitty.
Like Tisei, his campaign has been helped by super PACs, the independent political committees that can raise and spend unlimited funds.
Forward Massachusetts, a PAC created by Moulton’s supporters, has spent nearly $140,000 for voter canvassing, mailers, TV ads and even payroll expenses. Its money has come from investors including Joshua Bekenstein, a top executive with Bain Capital, the hedge fund that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney helped start and that supported the Republican’s presidential campaign.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and House Majority PAC, a major Democratic super PAC, have also poured hundreds of thousands of dollars and resources into the race.
The interest from outsiders is driven by a wider battle for control of Congress. Republicans currently have 234 seats in the House of Representatives, and Democrats have 199 seats. There are two vacancies.
Polls have indicated a tight race in the district, which includes most of Essex County and eight towns in Middlesex. A number of big-name Democrats have endorsed Moulton, including Vice President Joe Biden, who visited Lynn on Wednesday to rally the party faithful and drum up support for the Iraq war vet.
Moulton has attacked Tisei as a “career politician” who will side with House Republicans if elected. He argues that the issues facing the district can’t be solved by someone who votes the party line.
“One of the reasons that Congress is so ineffective is the Republican majority is holding it hostage,” he said. “We can’t keep sending the party insiders to Washington. We need fresh ideas and leadership.”