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Seth Moulton enters 2020 Democratic field

Seth Moulton.
Seth Moulton. (Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff)

Add one more candidate to the largest field of presidential hopefuls in modern American politics.

Representative Seth Moulton announced his bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination on Monday, stressing that his campaign would distinguish itself from the 18 other Democrats already seeking the White House by focusing on national security and service.

Moulton — who has completed three Harvard degrees and four tours in Iraq as a Marine — faces a difficult task in gaining attention and traction, both nationally and in the early states that traditionally play an outsized role in picking the party’s nominee.

Another hurdle for Moulton: He enters the race with fewer than 50 days to qualify for the first debates. To earn a spot on the stage, he will need either at least 1 percent in either early state or national polls or have at least 65,000 different donors across 20 states by June 12. Although Moulton is a strong fund-raiser, he has not developed the network of small-dollar contributors that his rivals for the presidency have in place.

In an interview, Moulton said “it’s not the end of the world” if he doesn’t qualify for the first debates, which, given the large field, will be held over two nights in late June.

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“We are obviously getting in late. I couldn’t get in earlier, especially with a young girl at home, but we are going to do whatever we can to make it,” said Moulton, 40, whose first child was born six months ago. “We would rather be on that stage than be off it.”

Moulton also argued that his campaign’s focus — foreign policy — has not been getting much attention in the Democratic contest so far.

“It is time to completely rethink our arms, our arms control, and our alliances for a new world,” said Moulton. “I think people are excited to have someone in the race (who) is willing to talk about other issues and attacking Trump where he is weakest.”

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The three-term representative follows Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat, and former governor Bill Weld, a Republican, in becoming the third person from Massachusetts hoping to kick President Trump out of the White House next year.

In neighboring New Hampshire, where Moulton will spend Tuesday and part of Wednesday, he has so far not been the subject of much anticipation among Democratic activists — at least compared to former vice president Joe Biden, who is expected to enter the contest later this week.

“I can honestly say I haven’t heard of anyone even mention (Moulton’s) name,” said Lynn Thomas, chair of the Belknap County Democrats.

Moulton spent his first day as a presidential candidate in New York City doing media interviews, including stops on ABC’s “Good Morning America’’ and Buzzfeed, before ending with a scheduled appearance on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show.’’ He’ll follow his New Hampshire swing with campaign stops later this week in South Carolina, Iowa, Nevada, and California.

Moulton has been flirting with a presidential run for months. In recent weeks, he visited all four early states on the calendar, as well as hired staff and secured campaign office space in Salem, his home base, and in Washington. His campaign manager will be Jim Matheson, who served as the interim director of Moulton’s PAC.

Peter Ubertaccio, a political scientist and dean at Stonehill College who has followed Moulton’s career, said he wasn’t surprised to see Moulton enter the presidential contest, but at the same time “it will be a tough climb for him, especially with so many in the race.”

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But in a political environment in which many already in the race see little downside to running, Ubertaccio said, Moulton’s run does carry political risk — when it comes to keeping his House seat.

Nationally, Moulton is more known for his unsuccessful bid to Nancy Pelosi’s pursuit of the House speakership following the 2018 midterm elections. Moulton became the most vocal of a small group saying the party needed to pick someone new, but he failed to find a candidate to challenge her.

In December, when he held a town hall meeting in his North Shore district, Moulton faced a crowd angry that he would challenge Pelosi, the first woman to become US House speaker.

“He really upset a lot of Democratic activists last year when he took on Pelosi,” Ubertaccio said. “I am not sure that alone would have cost him the seat. But to run a presidential campaign well, it is going to take a lot of time and energy and he can not overcome political physics: He cannot be in two places at once. This can be real problem if he has to watch his back in the district.”

His spokesman confirmed Monday that Moulton planned to seek reelection to his district if he does not win the nomination for president.

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It appears that he might have a challenge for his House seat in either case. Jamie Zahlaway Belsito, of Topsfield, has filed paperwork to run for the seat — either to challenge Moulton or run for the open seat should he not seek reelection.

Add to that state Representative Lori Ehrlich, a Marblehead Democrat, who told the Globe that Moulton’s national ambitions is a reason she is actively thinking about running for Sixth District, whether Moulton seeks reelection or not.

“I have been hearing from a lot of people in the region who said they want full-time representation in Congress,” said Ehrlich. “I know from my own experiences how crucial it is to have dedicated leadership.”

Similarly, Barbara L’Italien, former state senator from Andover who is also considering a run for the seat, said she was “disappointed but not surprised that Seth has decided again to follow his personal ambition instead of his district.”

For his part, Moulton said he is “proud to represent the people of the Sixth District and I would be proud to represent them in the Oval Office.

“My staff is as engaged as ever.”


Matt Stout of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell.