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Seth Moulton may face a primary challenge from Barbara L’Italien

As U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton mulls a race for the presidency, former state Sen. Barbara L’Italien is considering challenging the three-term congressman.

The Andover Democrat forfeited her spot in the Legislature to seek the congressional office vacated by U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas last year. She finished third behind winner Lori Trahan.

“Seth is vulnerable because of the stupidity he engaged in over the Nancy Pelosi fight,” said L’Italien. “You don’t go to such lengths to challenge leadership when you don’t even have a candidate, and that has set his standing back in Congress.”

Moulton declined a request for an interview.

A spokesman said the congressman was elected to Congress in a primary, was overwhelmingly re-elected last November, and isn’t afraid of the democratic process he risked his life to defend.

Moulton raised eyebrows last year when he organized a campaign to block 78-year-old U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s bid for House speaker. The California Democrat served as speaker from 2007 to 2011 and was on track to regain the post after the Democrats captured the House in November.

While Moulton talked about installing a “new generation of leadership,” some saw sexism and ageism. He was one of 16 Democrats who signed a letter which said it’s time for change when their party takes the reins in the House in January. The signers hoped other candidates would emerge to run for Speaker.

At the time, a Moulton spokesman said Pelosi lacked the votes to win the leadership post and was unlikely to get them because there are enough freshmen and incumbents whose political interest is to oppose her on the floor.

But it didn’t turn out that way.

U.S. Rep.-elect Ayanna Pressley from Boston, who beat longtime incumbent Michael Capuano, said she backed Pelosi. And rising star New York Democratic Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also voiced support for Pelosi.

At that point, potential challengers to Pelosi withdrew, including Reps. Marcia Fudge of Ohio and Brian Higgins of New York.

By mid-December, Moulton’s effort to topple Pelosi crumbled and the rebels and the would-be speaker made a deal. Moulton and his friends agreed to back Pelosi while she agreed to establish term limits for Democrats in leadership roles and to step aside by 2022, at 82 years old.

But how will Massachusetts Democrats deal with a Moulton-L’Italien race if there is one?

Veronica Martinez, executive director of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, said the organization’s rules require the party to remain neutral in primary races. But Philip Johnston, the former Democratic party chairman, said many Democrats, including him, are upset with Moulton for his attacks on Pelosi.

“Barbara was a very strong legislator and a strong candidate for Congress in the third district, and many voters in the region are well aware of her record,” he said. “She would be a formidable candidate. If I were to give Seth any advice, it would be to tend to his home base.”

It’s not only Moulton’s targeting Pelosi that rubbed L’Italien the wrong way.

“From the moment he became congressman he’s been looking elsewhere and clearly has set his sights on the presidency,” she said.

Earlier this month, Moulton told BuzzFeed News he is thinking about running for president.

“I think we need someone who you know for whom standing up to a bully like Donald Trump isn’t the biggest challenge he or she has ever faced in life,” he said.

L’Italien served in the state senate from 2014 until last year when she chose to seek the congressional seat. Before that, she was a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 2003 to 2011. Half of Andover is in Moulton’s district and the other half is Trahan’s.

On what it will take to make a decision to seek the Sixth District seat in Congress, L’Italien said she would need to gather supporters, mount a rigorous fundraising effort and create a public appearance schedule.

“It’s certainly an uphill climb running against an incumbent,” she said. “But I know what’s involved, I know what needs to happen, and I’ll know when to pull the trigger.”

At least one Democrat is no fan of Moulton or L’Italien.

North Shore immigration lawyer Marisa DeFranco, who was defeated by Elizabeth Warren at the Democratic state convention in 2012 in her bid to face off against Republican Sen. Scott Brown, said there has to be better candidates.

“I think Seth is terrible on immigration, on homeland and border security, and so is Barbara,” said DeFranco, a WBZ News Radio host. “They’re both peddling the same old stuff. I’d call it boring if it wasn’t so dangerous.”  

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