US Representative Seth Moulton, who bucked establishment Democrats last year in unseating a nine-term incumbent, has signaled he is open to breaking ranks again, hinting at support for Vice President Joe Biden if he decides to run.
Although Senator Elizabeth Warren met privately Saturday with Biden at his Washington residence, most of the state’s all-Democrat congressional delegation has fallen in line behind the party’s presumed presidential front-runner, former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton.
But its newest member has hung back and indicated he is waiting for Biden to make up his mind.
Moulton said he has not established a timeline for making an endorsement decision, but he had warm praise for Biden, who, allies say, is likely to announce next month whether he will seek the presidency.
“He’s a political mentor of mine. And he’s been very good to me,” Moulton said in a Friday phone interview.
He said Biden’s famously off-the-cuff style, occasionally resulting in politically awkward circumstances, has been something of a model for his own fledgling career.
“I think people love him for that,” Moulton said. “And being candid and honest about the challenges that we face is certainly something that I’ve tried to make a hallmark of my short time as a politician.”
Moulton drew stiff resistance last year from Democrats both in Massachusetts and in Washington who rallied around his primary opponent, longtime congressman John F. Tierney. After Moulton’s primary victory, Biden was the most prominent national Democrat to appear on his behalf. The vice president headlined a rally in Lynn less than a week before Moulton bested the Republican nominee, Richard Tisei, a former state senator.
Calling Clinton “the best candidate that we have in the race today,” Moulton said he thought a competitive primary, like the one in which he prevailed over Tierney, would be healthy for the Democratic Party.
Asked whether Clinton’s opponents — Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, former Rhode Island governor and senator Lincoln Chafee, and former Virginia senator and Navy secretary Jim Webb — had yet mounted such a challenge, Moulton replied, “That’s a good question.”
“Bernie Sanders is getting tremendous traction. I don’t think he’ll be the nominee, but he is certainly speaking to real frustrations that Americans are feeling right now,” Moulton said.
Moulton said he had received “some outreach from the Clinton camp” but “no undue pressure.”
A decorated former US Marine Corps officer who served four terms in Iraq, Moulton gained national recognition by upending Tierney. An early internal poll showed him trailing Tierney, who had been beset by family scandals, by 54 points six months before the primary and his own pollster encouraged him to quit the race, Moulton recalled earlier this year.
Biden, too, would enter the race as a heavy underdog against Clinton, according to polling of the hypothetical matchup. But growing concerns about Clinton’s candidacy have helped fuel speculation that the vice president could enter the race.
Clinton, meanwhile, has already amassed support from the majority of the state’s representatives in Washington. Along with her husband, former president Bill Clinton, the former secretary has long-running ties to the state’s political and business establishments.
But she was memorably rebuked during her 2008 primary campaign against Barack Obama by the state’s most prominent Democrats. Then-governor Deval Patrick and both of the state’s senators at the time, Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kerry, endorsed Obama early in the primary.
This time around, Clinton has racked up support from longtime allies including Representatives James McGovern and Stephen F. Lynch, as well as relative newcomers such as Representatives Katherine Clark and Joseph P. Kennedy III.
Warren has also held off from endorsing a 2016 candidate, although in 2013 she joined all of the other female Senate Democrats in signing a letter encouraging Clinton to run. Her meeting Saturday with Biden caused waves because of the adulation she commands from the party’s left wing, making her one of the Democrats’ top financial draws.
Representative Michael Capuano is “neutral for now,” an adviser said Friday. Attorney General Maura Healey endorsed Clinton last week.
With hordes of Democrats arraying themselves behind Clinton, Moulton — if he were to back Biden — could find himself in a prominent role on an upstart campaign. An endorsement tracker at FiveThirtyEight.com counted more than 130 endorsements from governors and members of Congress for Clinton, just two for Biden — both from his home state of Delaware.
“It probably wouldn’t be bad for Seth,” said Bruce Tobey, a former Gloucester mayor and friend and adviser to Moulton.
Tobey said he thought Moulton could be an asset for Biden. “Given that the first vote won’t get cast in anger, if you will, until . . . the Iowa caucuses, I think this race is wide open,” he said. “[Moulton] is an emerging leader of the Democratic Party of the next 10, 20, 30 years.”
Moulton echoed concerns that Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server while she was the nation’s chief diplomat may have violated protocol, but he defended her in the face of Republican criticism.
“She should’ve absolutely used the government e-mail, because that was, as I understand it, the regulation,” he said. “But I trust that she complied with the law and is complying with the investigation.”
Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com.