Seth Moulton, in a surprising upset, defeated 9-term incumbent John Tierney in the Democratic primary for the U.S. House seat in Massachusetts Congressional District 6. The primary campaign included 5 Democratic contenders in the district north of Boston.
Moulton won the primary with 49 percent of the vote, just short of a majority, and about 5,500 votes ahead of Tierney’s 41 percent. Moulton’s ballot counts were well ahead of challengers Marisa DeFranco (6%), John Devine (2%), and John Gutta (1%).
Tierney lost his re-election bid despite support from leaders of the Democratic establishment, including President Obama, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.One thing Tierney lacked was the backing of major local media. The Boston Globe endorsed Moulton, calling him a timely change for the district and for the nation.
The Lowell Sun, a key daily newspaper in the district, endorsed Marisa DeFranco, crediting her with a strong woman’s voice and a refreshing perspective. However, DeFranco was not able to successfully position herself as the better alternative to either Moulton or Tierney.
Moulton, a 35-year-old ex-marine and Iraq war veteran, also had the support of David Gergen, a senior political adviser to three presidents. Gergen, in an op-ed piece in the Boston Globe, compared Moulton’s promise as a young candidate to that of John F. Kennedy’s early success as a 29-year-old congressional candidate.
“If we truly believe that our politics needs to change, then we must be willing to vote for candidates who will bring it.” -David Gergen
“Our win tonight says two things,” Moulton told supporters in his victory speech. “First, that we are fed up with the gridlock in Washington. And second, that voters want to keep this seat blue.”
Moulton kept Tierney on the defensive for much of the campaign, and their campaigns became increasing bitter in the final days before the primary.
Moulton attacked Tierney for his business-as-usual Washington politics and lack of effectiveness in Congress. In response, Tierney attempted to link Moulton with Republican backers supporting the NRA and opposing abortion rights.
“We are fed up with the gridlock in Washington.”Seth Moulton
Tierney was also sharply criticized by opponent Marissa DeFranco for his refusal to join the other candidates in public forums to debate.“Why won’t John Tierney face his opponents and his constituents?” DeFranco asked in a press release just prior to the primary.
DeFranco, an immigration lawyer, pursued the House seat after a failed attempt for Senate in 2012.
Despite the importance of the race — critical for the Democrats to hold, and an opportunity for the Republicans to widen their majority in the House — turnout for the primary was expected to be low. Preliminary estimates showedvoter turnout between 15 and 20 percent in many cities and towns in the Massachusetts primary.
Low turnout builds on a general trend of voter dissatisfaction with their own representatives across the nation, as shown in a recent Washington Post poll.
Many saw the primary election as a referendum on Tierney himself. Tierney, in 2012, battled accusations that he was complicit in his wife’s financial misconduct involving illegal gambling and tax fraud.
Patrice Tierney pleaded guilty to federal charges and served a month in prison in 2011. In 2013, the House Ethics Committee officially dropped its investigation into allegations that Tierney failed to disclose contributions from his wife’s illegal affairs.
Moulton now faces his next hurdle of campaigning against Republican Richard Tisei. This is the second attempt by Tisei for the House seat, losing by less than 5,000 votes to Tierney in 2010.
A wildcard in the race is a newcomer to the political scene, independent candidate Christopher Stockwell. Stockwell, a centrist, brings a fresh perspective to the race, which he firmly believes will resonate with voters on Election Day.
Stockwell is appealing to the more than half of voters in the district who are unenrolled. His win would make him the first independentelected to the House of Representatives since 2004.
In a general climate of dissatisfaction with Congress and the “throw the bums out” mentality that exists with many voters even in traditional party strongholds, the outcome is far from certain.