BOSTON — When Seth Moulton graduated from Harvard University in 2001, he could have continued his Ivy League education, a path that might have led easily to management and a six-figure salary.
Instead, he enlisted in the U.S. Marines Corps – months before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks – and did four tours of duty in Iraq as a commander of an infantry platoon.
“When I got out of college, I had so much respect for the 18-year-old kids who served on the front lines of our nation’s military,” Moulton, a Salem Democrat, told a about 100 people at a panel discussion at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government Friday night. “I went into the Marines because I wanted to serve the country.”
Moulton, who was first elected to Congress in 2014, said when he got out of the Marines, he “really missed the sense of purpose” that public service gave him.
“That’s what got me interested in this line of work,” he said. “This was the first job I had since being a Marine platoon commander that I felt that sense of purpose again.”
In recent months, Moulton has taken a leading role in helping enlist fellow veterans to run for federal office and is helping raise funds for their campaigns through the Serve America Victory Fund, a super PAC he established in 2014.
He’s also partnered with Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat who lost both legs and partial use of an arm in a rocket-propelled grenade attack in Iraq.
Ahead of next year’s midterm elections, when Democrats hope to win control of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Serve America PAC is supporting a dozen Democrats who plan to challenge sitting Republican lawmakers.
Democrats need to pick up 24 seats to reclaim a House majority next November.
Motivated by Trump
Friday’s panel, part of two-day lecture series at Harvard focusing on public service, was billed as a nonpartisan event, but the discussion was peppered with political undertones.
Amy McGrath, a Democrat who served 20 years in the Marine Corps as a combat pilot, is making her first run for elected office by challenging incumbent Rep. Andy Barr, a Republican, in Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District.
She woke up after Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in the Nov. 8, 2016 presidential election and decided she could no longer stand on the political sidelines.
“I needed to do something,” she told the panel. “So I decided to run for office.”
Mikie Sherrill, a former Navy helicopter pilot and former prosecutor, is running against incumbent GOP Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen in New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District. She said President Trump’s divisive policies are what got her involved in politics.
“We have a president that is tearing apart the very institutions of our democracy that I swore to defend,” Sherrill said. “And members of Congress are standing by and watching him do it.”
Other Democratic veterans running for Congress next year backed by Moulton include Dan McCready in North Carolina, Chrissy Houlahan in Pennsylvania, Dan Feehan in Minnesota, Roger Dean Huffstetler in Virginia, Joseph Kopser in Texas, Patrick Ryan in New York, Ken Harbaugh in Ohio, Josh Butner in California, Aaron Scheinberg in Wyoming and Jason Crow in Colorado.
The extended post-Sept. 11 conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq are producing a whole new crop of veterans who have leveraged their military experience to run for Congress.
Currently, there are 80 veterans in the 435-seat House and 20 veterans in the 100-member Senate, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Moulton, who faces a reelection bid in next year’s elections, has publicly expressed frustration over relying on party leadership to recruit candidates to run for office. He has been an outspoken critic of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other leaders, citing the Democrats’ recent loss in the Georgia special election.
Following the panel discussion, Moulton headlined a closed-door fundraising event in downtown Boston for the dozen candidates he’s supporting in the 2018 elections.
Contributions to get into the reception ranged from $50 to $69,800, according to the Serve America PAC’s ActBlue fundraising page. The press was not invited.
Super PACs are political committees that can raise and spend unlimited funds.
In the 2016 election cycle, the Serve America PAC raised more than $96,000 and diverted $84,000 to campaigns, including Democrat Hillary Clinton, according to Federal Election Commission filings. The PAC had $24,232 cash-on-hand as of June 30.
“The American people need more service-driven leaders who are prepared to put country over party and people over politics,” Moulton said in a fundraising pitch to his supporters. “And the Democratic Party needs a new generation of leadership — one focused on the future.”
It wasn’t immediately clear how much money was raised Friday night, but Moulton’s campaign said it would be divided evenly among the candidates.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for The Salem News and its sister newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org