Pretty much everything you need to know about Massachusetts congressman Seth Moulton’s 2020 presidential campaign, which is folding today, is contained in the headline of a New York Times feature last month: “‘Who’s That?’ Running for President at Zero Percent.” Mostly known for being a centrist critic of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the three-term House member got into the presidential race late, in April, and his autobiographically focused candidacy (he’s an Iraq War vet who thinks Democrats don’t focus enough on national security) never gained traction. He failed to reach either the grassroots fundraising or polling thresholds for the first and second candidate debates this summer, and was obviously not going to hit the heightened qualifying requirements for the third debate next month.
He also got out of the presidential race in an effort to salvage his congressional career. His district has already attracted multiple Democratic primary challengers, not just because Moulton was running for president, but also because the failed effort he led to take away Pelosi’s gavel following the 2018 midterm angered a lot of people back home, as Boston Magazine explained in June:
The North Shore congressman earned scorn in his district, derision in the press, and enemies in his own party in Washington. He and the other leaders of the putsch were labeled #FiveWhiteGuys online by their critics for trying to take down a woman.
Moulton’s political future is hazy at best. In an interview with Alexander Burns revealing his decision to bag his candidacy, he declined to endorse any of his rivals, but sounded like someone who would like to back Joe Biden. Maybe he’s hoping the former veep will help him retire campaign debts. In a message to other struggling candidates, however, Moulton suggested all but three of them are probably wasting their time:
“I think it’s evident that this is now a three-way race between Biden, Warren and Sanders, and really it’s a debate about how far left the party should go,” Mr. Moulton said.
You’d normally figure Moulton would be inclined to support Warren, who is part of the same congressional delegation. But reportedly he’s not a big fan, as Vanity Fair observed at the time of the first debate:
While watching the debate on Wednesday night, Moulton — who did not meet the polling and donor requirements to participate in said debate — told U.S. News & World Report that he had invited Warren to his September 2017 wedding. She didn’t just decline to attend — which itself would be a snub, surely, in the small world of state politics — she RSVP’d “yes,” then canceled last minute.
Bet he didn’t even save his colleague a slice of wedding cake.
Moulton’s departure (preceded by the withdrawals of Eric Swalwell, Mike Gravel, John Hickenlooper, and Jay Inslee) leaves 21 Democrats running for president, including three others (Wayne Messam, Joe Sestak, and Tom Steyer) who never made the debate stage (though billionaire Steyer will likely qualify for the September debate). But there are at least six other candidates whose campaigns are on death watch since they likely won’t make the fall debate cut. Who will be the next to pack it in? According to a report from the Times, a CNN town hall appearance this weekend could be the “last gasp” for New York mayor Bill de Blasio:
Jim Crounse, a senior adviser to Mr. de Blasio’s campaign, called the town hall a “big opportunity” for the mayor, who has already hosted 65 town-hall style meetings during his six years as mayor of the country’s largest city.
“Unlike the debates, where quick responses were required, a town hall format will allow the mayor to tell his story, articulate his message and interact with people,” Mr. Crounse said.
Um, yeah, but …
“Exposure is not his problem,” said Douglas Muzzio, a public affairs professor at Baruch College. “You can turn people off with exposure as well as turn them on.”
He’s got nowhere to go but up — or out.