NEWBURYPORT — North Shore voters got a look at Democratic politics past, present, and future Sunday, as they heard from presidential candidate and US Representative Seth Moulton and from the man he replaced in Congress nearly five years ago, John Tierney.
The two could soon find themselves facing off directly, as Tierney considers a run to reclaim his former seat in the state’s Sixth Congressional District.
As Moulton addressed a crowd of more than 100 at the Newburyport Senior Community Center on Sunday afternoon, he stressed that the town hall meeting was part of his outreach to constituents as a congressman and not officially a campaign event, but his remarks several times turned to his bid for the Democratic nomination.
“I made the decision to get in this race because I believe it’s the best way I can serve the country. That’s always the guideline I’ve used,” said Moulton, a former Marine who served four tours of duty in Iraq.
“It’s why I kept going back to Iraq, even though I disagreed with the war,” he continued. “Because I thought it was the best way I could serve the country, and I didn’t want anyone going in my place.”
Discussing his work in the House of Representatives, Moulton promoted recent bipartisan efforts on issues such as preserving right whale populations, stopping the importation of the dangerous opioid fentanyl from China, and providing services for the developmentally disabled.
In an interview with the Globe after the event, Moulton said, “the response has been tremendous out on the campaign trail,” though he is still introducing himself to many voters nationally.
He said he has heard almost no mention of one of his more controversial decisions, his unsuccessful efforts to dethrone Nancy Pelosi, first as Democratic leader in 2016 and again last year as she reemerged as speaker of the House.
“I’ve almost never heard it,” he said. “I was in New Hampshire all day yesterday, doing multiple different events; it never came up.”
Moulton said he was proud of what he and others in his coalition had accomplished in their intraparty dispute, which he insisted was never about Pelosi personally but instead was focused on the Democrats’ top three leadership roles in the House.
“Because of that debate,” he said, “we got the climate change subcommittee, the voting rights subcommittee, and we got an agreement on term limits for leadership that will mean this incredibly diverse class of freshmen [legislators] will actually have a voice in the future of our politics.”
Moulton’s message to constituents was a hit with Dianne Romanos, 71, of Newbury,
“He’s exactly the sort of person that we need in politics, from the presidency, to the State House, to the local board of education,” she said. “I think he has the courage of his convictions and I think he’s very bright, he’s ethical, his head is in the right place.”
But earlier Sunday, at the Gloucester Democratic City Committee’s annual brunch, there was a similarly warm welcome for Tierney, whom Moulton defeated in a 2014 primary election before going on to beat Republican Richard Tisei to take the seat Tierney held for 18 years.
Like Moulton in Newburyport, Tierney didn’t come to the Gloucester Elks Lodge to campaign for office. The former nine-term congressman was there in his current role as executive director of the Council for a Livable World, discussing national security and nuclear proliferation issues.
But speaking to reporters after the brunch, Tierney said he’s been hearing from friends and supporters who want him to seek his old seat.
“A lot of people have been very kind in suggesting [that I run again], so I won’t be rude; I’ll consider what they have to say,” Tierney said. “There’s a lot of considerations that will go into it.”
Tierney lost the Sixth District seat to Moulton after a scandal over an illegal gambling ring allegedly run by the family of his wife, Patrice, that ultimately resulted in her entering a guilty plea. Though Tierney was found to have no role in the criminal enterprise, the negative publicity hurt him with voters.
Despite his loss nearly five years ago, there was and remains a lot of support for Tierney across his former district, according to Gloucester resident Roz Smith.
“I was a Tierney supporter through everything, even though Seth Moulton was a good candidate, and I’m very proud of what he’s done,” said Smith, 75, who said that while she was a city employee she had worked on projects with which Tierney was involved.
If Tierney seeks to retake his former seat, Smith said, “that would be a tough choice for me, because I admire them both greatly.”