SALEM — Congressman Seth Moulton isn't shying away from the fact that he failed to make it to the big stage for Wednesday's first televised debates among the Democratic candidates for president.
Instead, he'll be running his first television ad in the presidential campaign, timed to run before and during the debates on Wednesday and Thursday nights.
“I’m Seth Moulton. I won’t be on the debate stage tonight, so I’m introducing myself here," he says in the ad, looking straight into the camera. "I served four combat tours in Iraq, a war I spoke out against. I’m progressive, I’m practical, and I can beat Donald Trump."
The ad is intended to serve as an introduction for Moulton, a Harvard-educated resident of Salem now serving his third term in Congress. He has made bringing a new generation of leadership to Washington, D.C., and service to the nation his calling cards in the campaign.
According to the schedule sent out by his campaign, Moulton will be busy in the run-up to and after the debates in Miami, which will feature 10 candidates each night.
On Wednesday, he will be interviewed by the Washington Post's Robert Costa, attend the Florida Democratic Party reception and appear live on Fox News. On Thursday, Moulton is scheduled to appear on MSNBC, Sirius XM Radio and CNN, and take part in the NBC News Now live stream for post-debate reactions.
He'll also be taking to social media, his campaign said.
Moulton was traveling by train on Tuesday afternoon and was unavailable for comment, said Matt Corridoni, his campaign spokesman.
Moulton is not among the 20 Democrats in the debate because he did not meet the Democratic National Committee's fundraising or polling criteria, which required 65,000 unique donors and three polls showing the candidate with at least 1 percent of support.
During an interview after a congressional town hall in Peabody on June 15, he said almost half of the 20 candidates who made the debates did not make the 65,000 unique donor criterion. And he said he had some polls where he met the threshold of at least 1 percent of support, "but the DNC decided those polls didn't count, and I don't know why. That's how they decided."
Moulton said he knew getting in as late as he did, on April 22, there was a chance he would miss the first debate, but then again the first votes in the Democratic primaries will not be cast until February 2020.
"If you look at where Clinton or Carter was at this stage in the race," Moulton said of former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, "they are about where I am now. So, fear not."
Debates vs. air time
Moulton may be in a position to capture more air time than many of the candidates in the debates, Corridoni said.
It was hard to poll a field of 20 candidates seven months before the Iowa caucuses, he noted. So he said Moulton is doing what he needs to do, going to early states and meeting voters. He's also going to places where many Democrats do not, such as Spartanburg, South Carolina.
The June DNC debate is not going to decide the nominee, Corridoni said, and history shows that "flavor of the month" candidates this early in the race do not wind up with the nomination — "otherwise, you would have had President Howard Dean."
"Debates are certainly important, but they aren't the only way for candidates to differentiate themselves," said Carrie Rankin, founder and president of North Bridge Strategies and Moulton's former adviser. "I worked on John Kerry's campaign in 2004, and Howard Dean was surging in popularity at this point in the election. A lot will happen over the next seven months when voters start heading to the polls."
Still, there's some concern among locals that Moulton's campaign has not gained enough traction.
"To be honest with you, despite his optimism, I don't think many people in the district have thought he has emerged as a serious candidate," said Democratic consultant Michael Goldman of Marblehead.
Debate viewers will be looking at the 20 candidates who made the debate stage, he said, not the four who did not, though he understands that Moulton will be in Miami making noise.
"I'm sure if you put him on a lie detector, he would rather be on the debate stage," Goldman said. He said Moulton is doing what candidates should do, picking themselves up and carrying on with the campaign. If he is able to make it to the next debate stage, no one will remember that he failed to make it the first time, he said.
And given that candidates will have so little time to speak, and the debate will move quickly, it's going to be hard to get noticed, anyway.
However, Moulton's advertising during the debates are not the same thing when it comes trying to capture the attention of interested, highly motivated Democrats trying to figure out the field. Not being on the debate stage does not help.
Longtime Democratic activist Mike Schulze of Peabody said he spoke to Moulton after the town hall in Peabody and told him, "Don't let this get to you."
"I told him to stay in until he gets to a point where he thinks he is spinning his wheels, and then come back (to the district)." Schulze also encouraged Moulton to go to Miami anyway and make himself available to the press.
"You will probably get more time than anyone else there," said Schulze, who is no fan of the Democratic rules for getting into the debate.
Moulton's reaction? He'd already been thinking the same thing.
"He had a big smile on his face and he said: 'We're going to be there.'"
Schulze said it's way too early to count Moulton out. He recalls going to Iowa to campaign for John Kerry in 2004, when he was the underdog. Kerry went on to secure the Democratic nomination.
Former Danvers state Rep. Sally Kerans said she will be watching the debates with interest.
She said it makes sense with so many candidates to have some criteria to make the debate stage.
"I think people are looking forward to some winnowing out of some names in the field just because it's so impractical to have so many," Kerans said.
Other Democrats she has heard from do not think the criteria was unfair. The feeling is that some of these candidates would be better off running for U.S. Senate to try and wrest control of that chamber from Republican control, Kerans said.
One impact of not making the debate stage, Kerans said, is it makes it harder to raise money.
"We will know a little bit more after Thursday," she added.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews.