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July 11, 2014

Tierney challenge pivots on core Democrats, Independents

BOSTON — Seth Moulton has three Harvard degrees, spent four tours of duty as a Marine in Iraq and has hired prominent campaign strategists. But is his Democratic Party fealty sufficient enough to topple long-time incumbent Congressman John Tierney in this fall’s primary election?

That’s the question hardened Democrats and political observers are asking as the Sept. 9 ballot box showdown between the two Salem residents draws near in the 6th Congressional District race.

“He has an amazing biography,” said Peter Ubertaccio, a political science professor at Stonehill College. “But biography can only take you so far when you’re challenging an incumbent who retains a lot of institutional support, as John Tierney does. You need to have the resources.”

Moulton, 35, has only been a registered Democrat since December of 2012, voting records show. He was an independent or unenrolled voter before that.

Moulton’s voting records in his hometown of Marblehead, and in Salem and Cambridge, where he attended Harvard University, also show he has skipped several major Democratic primaries and elections, including the 2010 election when Republican Scott Brown captured the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Edward M. Kennedy for nearly half a century.

In contrast, Tierney, 62, has been registered as a Democrat since 1996, when he was first elected to Congress. He’s known as one of Washington’s most liberal lawmakers. Still, he barely won re-election against Republican nominee Richard Tisei, a former state senator, two years ago, in a bare-knuckles race that focused on Tierney’s spousal ties to an illegal off-shore gambling operation.

A battle-scarred Tierney won that election by a one-point margin on the basis of core liberal support. President Obama captured the 6th Congressional District by 10 points. Political observers say Tierney remains vulnerable and Democrats know that.

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