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Moulton’s toughness beats out Tierney

John Tierney conceded at his election night party at the Hawthorne Hotel in Salem.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

It turns out the desperate pleas from Joe Kennedy, Barney Frank, Elizabeth Warren, and Nancy Pelosi weren’t false alarms.

US Representative John Tierney really did need their help — but it wasn’t enough to save him from a young, appealing primary challenger. After barely defeating Republican challenger Richard Tisei two years ago, Tierney lost Tuesday’s race to Seth Moulton, a 35-year-old Iraq War veteran.

Tierney’s 2012 run was tainted by a gambling scandal involving his wife and her two brothers, but he still squeaked by Tisei. In 2014, he faced four primary opponents. Moulton, the strongest rival, argued that Tierney’s 18 years in office were part of Washington’s gridlock problem. A new voice, said Moulton, could cut through some of the same, old bitter partisan rhetoric and at the very least, change the tone, if not the terms of debate.


Something about Moulton’s pitch clearly struck a chord with voters. The Marblehead native is a Harvard graduate who enlisted in the Marines before the terrorist attacks of Sep. 11, 2001, and then went on to serve four tours of duty in Iraq. He also has degrees from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and Harvard Business School.

As a candidate, Moulton showed the toughness it takes to become the first Democrat in 22 years to oust an incumbent Massachusetts congressman.

The Moulton campaign targeted Tierney with negative ads, charging that the longtime representative passed only one bill in 18 years and missed more votes than most other members of Congress. Focused on saving his money and energy for Tisei, Tierney largely ignored his opponent until he finally realized he was in trouble. Then, Tierney launched his own negative ad, charging that Republicans were funding Moulton’s effort. It was too little, too late, and it played right into the perception of Tierney as paranoid partisan.

If Republicans backed Moulton as a way to weaken Tierney, but did not really expect Tierney to lose, Tisei now faces the consequences. He won’t face a stale incumbent. He faces a fresh, new Democrat, who beat Tierney and all the friends who tried so hard to save him.


Joan Vennochi can be reached at