Editor's note: This article has been updated since its original publication. Emmett Soldati, the owner of the Teatotaller cafe, is the son of Lincoln Soldati, who was among the 11 candidates in the 1st Congressional District Democratic primary.
SOMERSWORTH, N.H.— While he mulls a run for president, Salem Congressman Seth Moulton brought his service-first message to a small and passionate group of Democrats in meet and greet at the Teatotaller cafe on High Street on Saturday afternoon.
Somersworth is the smallest city by area in New Hampshire (10 square miles), the youngest by demographics, and also "the gayest city" in the state, said the owner of the cafe, Emmett Soldati.
Moulton fielded some tough questions for about an hour speaking to 16 people on the invitation of the Tri-City Young Democrats. Earlier that day, the 40-year congressman, who is serving his third term in the House, also made a stop at The Barley House in Concord for an interview on the "Pints and Politics" radio show.
"We are trying to make it clear that the road to the White House goes through Somersworth with a stop at Teatotaller," said Isaac Epstein of Dover, N.H., the president of Tri-City Young Democrats.
Moulton said afterward his effort in coming to a decision, which he expects to make next month, is not about who he is talking to, a question he gets asked a lot, lately.
"Everyone is like, 'Who are you talking to?' It's not about talking. It's about listening," Moulton said. "It's about listening to voters and understanding what we need in this race. We've got to beat Donald Trump. We have got to bring the country back together again. We have got to get some solutions to a totally new generation of problems facing this country. But, ultimately the decision for me will come back to one simple question: How can I best serve the country."
The questions ranged on various topics from money in politics, perceived human rights abuses by the Israeli government against Palestinian civilians, gun control, the controversy over anti-Semitic statements by fellow Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Medicare for all.
The former Marine officer, who served four tours of duty in Iraq, continues to get his health care from Veterans Affairs hospitals, and he's not thrilled with it; after hernia surgery a few years ago, he was sent home with the wrong pain medication – a bottle of Advil.
"So, the point is that I don't think we should be forcing everybody onto a single-payer government health care plan if you actually have health care that you like," Moulton said. Health care should available for everyone, but, competition is also a good thing.
While Moulton got a warm reception, no one was jumping on the Moulton bandwagon just yet.
"He is a little bit too inexperienced in terms of lack of specificity on the issues," said John Lesko of Parsonsfield, Maine. Moulton, he said, was "not correct" about artificial intelligence replacing jobs, and he had failed to read economist Paul Krugman's recent article in The New York Times about the subject. "So, he's got a long way to go," said Lesko, who is leaning toward Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
"I've been watching him for several years," said Denise Fransen of Rochester, N.H., who is undecided. "Excited about him a couple of years ago when he first ran for representative, and I just think now the field is so crazy, that he's doing a great job where he is."
Somersworth City Councilor Edward Levasseur said he was pleasantly surprised by Moulton, but entrepreneur Andrew Yang has caught his eye.
"Hearing the amount of support and effort that he put behind flipping the House I think shows a lot, you know," Levasseur said. "Hearing that he went up against a 18-year incumbent I think that speaks a lot about you know who he is and what he can accomplish."
Moulton wound up disagreeing with John O'Mahony of Dover, N.H. who was upset with "the targeting of Ilhan Omar for speaking out against AIPAC." The American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobbies on behalf of policies that favor Israel.
"So, just to be upfront," Moulton said, "you and I are going to disagree on this issue, because I think that what she said was an anti-Semitic trope and we should not allow that."
Moulton said one does not have to support Israeli policy, military or the pro-Israel lobby "to not say anti-Semitic things. There's a certain civility you can expect in our debate."
"He's not someone I would every vote for," O'Mahony said. "I mean, he answered my question. We spoke to him before the event, as well. But, my own and answers to a few other questions, I was not impressed with, but like I said, the dialogue and I guess openness is good."
Soldati, the cafe owner, liked Moulton personally, but he told him directly New Hampshire does not like kingmakers from the D.C establishment. In New Hampshire's 1st Congressional District Democratic primary, Moulton backed Maura Sullivan, a newcomer to the state, in her losing bid amid a field of 11 candidates. Soldati, whose father Lincoln Soldati was also a candidate in that primary, said money played a huge role in the race.
Moulton said when Chris Pappas won the primary for the 1st District, he supported him in the general election, which Pappas won.
"Let me be clear," Moulton said. "Maura is a friend. She's a fellow Marine. And when I was going around supporting Democrats around this country in districts that we had to win to take back the House, I wasn't going to abandon a friend of mine and a fellow Marine literally across the border from my state." Moulton said the New Hampshire political establishment told him Pappas was their candidate and to "get out of here."
"I think it also opens up, like, the political system can't be run by friendship," Soldati said. "You know, the political system needs to be run by what are your values? Did he come up to Somersworth or Portsmouth, getting to know is this a candidate that's viable or is this a candidate that just moved here?"
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews.