First round debates over, Moulton says he's not out

Ethan Forman/Staff photoU.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Salem, says it's too early to be deterred in his bid for the White House even though he failed to make it to the debate stage last week for the first round of Democratic debates. He plans to stump in Nevada over the Fourth of July holiday.

SALEM — The fact that he didn't make the cut for the Democratic National Committee's first round of presidential debates last week has not deterred U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Salem, in his bid for the Oval Office.

Moulton, a Marblehead native and Marine Corps veteran of the Iraq War, won't be in town for the Fourth of July holiday as he plans to make his third trip to Nevada to meet with veterans groups and continue his grassroots campaign, while also taking in the fireworks of the Henderson, Nevada, Fourth of July Celebration.

He had fallen short of the metrics for a debate appearance set by the Democratic Party, which was fundraising from 65,000 unique donors, with a minimum of 200 donors from 20 states, or 1% support in three early state or nationwide polls. Another debate is set for later this month, and the criteria for the third round in September is even tougher.

When asked about the comment by MSNBC host and commentator Rachel Maddow, who helped moderate the two nights of debates, that not making the debate put him at a disadvantage by not having a talking point with which he could fundraise, Moulton replied that he was aware he might miss the first debate.

"The Washington Democratic establishment at the DNC is not going to decide who wins this race," said Moulton, in an interview in Salem on Monday. "And, so, I knew getting in as late as I did, because I have a young daughter at home, that missing the debate was a possibility."

The 40-year-old's first child, Emmy, with his wife, Liz, was born this past October.

"But, in all other respects, the campaign is really going quite well," Moulton said. "Most importantly, the response that we are getting from the ground has been incredibly positive."

He said people recognize Democrats need a strong nominee to challenge Republican President Donald Trump. 

"And I wouldn't be in this race if I didn't believe I was the best nominee to take him on and ensure that the Democrats win next November," he said.

When asked how he might break through, Moulton said it's hard to do so, given the large field of more than 20 candidates. He notes, however, that in his first campaign to unseat former nine-term Salem Congressman John Tierney in the Democratic primary, there was never a viral moment.

"It was just a slow, steady climb. Meeting people where they are. Making the case," Moulton said. It's the same strategy he is employing today. He said the first poll taken in the race back in 2014 had him more than 50 points down to Tierney, after seven months of campaigning.

As for Tierney, he has signaled there are people urging him to run for his former seat, while Topsfield resident and Salem State University trustee Jamie Zahlway Belsito has announced plans to run against Moulton, if necessary, in a Democratic primary for the congressional seat. Moulton says he will seek reelection if he's unsuccessful in securing the Democratic ticket for president.

"We are only two months into this race," said Moulton, who officially announced his presidential campaign April 22. "Seven months in, I was 53 points down (in 2014), and I mean I'm not even that far behind (former Vice President Joe) Biden right now. And, yet we won that race by 11, and then we won a general election (against former Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei, R-Wakefield) in a district that almost flipped Republican, a district that a Republican governor won by 13 points, I won by 14. So that's the model that we are looking at."

Moulton said his campaign model is built to win a tough primary, even though it's going to take time. Voters don't even go to the polls until February. The goal is to build a coalition of Democrats, so-called "Obama-Trump voters" and disaffected Republicans.

Of the issues that could break through, Moulton notes he's the only candidate in the race who is the beneficiary of a single-payer health care system, from Veterans Affairs, which gives him a unique perspective amid candidates divided on different health care proposals, including Medicare for all.

Moulton, who only recently publicly revealed that he struggled with post-traumatic stress after coming home from the Iraq War, said he's the only candidate to make a proposal on mental health, a topic that did not come up last week during the two debates.

"We didn't bring up taking care of our veterans, either, and how the country has fallen woefully behind in doing so," he said. 

Moulton says he's also the only candidate talking about the idea of national security, and how to make the country safe and strong, "and reclaim patriotism."

"Because the president thinks that patriotism is hugging the American flag," he said. "That's not patriotism. Patriotism is fighting every single day to make sure the flag stands for something."

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews.