scorecardresearch Skip to main content

As Moulton runs for president, Tierney considers a comeback

Friends and former aides to John Tierney have been trying to convince Tierney to run again for the seat that he won in 1996 and eight times thereafter.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/File 2014/Globe Staff

A significant chunk of Representative Seth Moulton’s presidential announcement video this week retold the story of his upset victory five years ago over an 18-year incumbent, framing the moment as launching his political career by bucking the establishment.

Now, as Moulton travels the country, back home on the North Shore the man he defeated in that race is weighing a rematch.

Friends and former aides to John Tierney have been trying to persuade Tierney to run again for the seat that he won in 1996 and eight times thereafter. Some have offered to form a finance committee. Those who have discussed a possible run with Tierney say he has been listening with an open mind.


“A lot of people are talking about how this would work,” said Regina Villa, who served as Tierney’s campaign manager on his first successful campaign in 1996 and has been in his inner circle ever since. “It is not surprising to me that he is open to doing this again. He really enjoyed that job and has kept in touch with his friends who are now chairmen of a number of committees.”

Tierney, who still lives in Salem, was traveling and could not be reached. But another friend of Tierney’s, who has talked to him about the idea this week, said the decision to run wouldn’t depend on whether Moulton ran again.

Tierney has scheduled two speaking events in Gloucester on May 5. He’ll serve as the keynote speaker of the Gloucester Democrats annual brunch and that night he will address the Cape Ann Forum, where he will largely talk about national security and his current job involving nuclear disarmament.

The events are expected to serve as a chance for Tierney to take the temperature on another run in Massachusetts’ Sixth Congressional District in 2020.


A Tierney run would come with a backstory that he may not want to revisit.

Tierney was collateral damage in an illegal gambling ring allegedly run by his wife’s family that ultimately resulted in his wife entering a guilty plea. Even though Tierney was found to have no role in the gambling ring, news coverage of the federal investigation led to him barely winning reelection in 2012 and then losing the Democratic primary to Moulton in 2014.

Moulton campaigning this week in Manchester, N.H.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Then again, Moulton has a backstory, too.

Since defeating Tierney, Moulton is probably best known nationally for trying to dethrone Nancy Pelosi, first as Democratic leader in 2016 and then in late 2018 when she was reemerging as House speaker. Moulton never offered himself up as an alternative to Pelosi, who prevailed over his efforts both times.

This December, rumblings began in the district that someone should launch a primary challenge to Moulton as payback for trying to dislodge Pelosi, the only woman to ever serve as speaker and someone who is deeply popular with the Democratic base.

Some women, like former state senator Barbara L’Italien of Andover and state Representative Lori Ehrlich of Marblehead, are openly considering challenging Moulton. Even though a top aide to Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll told the Globe in December that she would not challenge Moulton, her name keeps coming up. Others being mentioned among activists in the district include Governor’s Councilor Terrence Kennedy and state Representative Paul Tucker, who previously served as the Salem police chief.


Through a spokesman this week, Moulton said he plans to run for reelection should he not become the Democratic nominee for president.

If a primary for the seat turns into a referendum on Moulton and Pelosi, then voters won’t have to look far for a Pelosi proxy. Tierney is not only friends with the speaker but her daughter, Christine Pelosi, once serve as his congressional chief of staff.

Pelosi campaigned for Tierney in the race that he lost to Moulton in 2014. Whether she will return to the district in 2020 is a question for another day.

James Pindell can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell or subscribe to his Ground Game newsletter on politics.