LAS VEGAS — A couple dozen political journalists were here Saturday, taking notes as six Democratic candidates for President addressed a large room full of union workers.

A seventh candidate was in town the same day, making his first campaign appearances in Nevada, which will vote fourth in next year’s nominating process. None of those scribes ventured across town to see Seth Moulton, however, save this lone exception on assignment from the Congressman’s home state of Massachusetts.

After launching his quixotic, and some would say self-delusional Presidential campaign last Monday, the fresh-faced Marine combat veteran conducted a sweep of the four early-voting states: New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina, and lastly Nevada.

Here in the Silver State, he volunteered at a veteran’s home clean-up; held a roundtable of sorts at a veterans’ housing event; and spoke at a VFW facility. The only media mention of these efforts came in the final sentence of a lengthy Nevada Independent article about the above-mentioned SEIU forum: “Rep. Seth Moulton, who officially announced his presidential campaign this week, also participated in two veteran-focused events on Saturday.”

So, OK, the first days of the Moulton Presidential campaign haven’t been a glamorous ride. On his way to the Vets for Action roundtable, his entourage mistakenly turned first into a much larger Pirate Fest taking place in a different portion of the same public park. There was far more interest in the pirates.

But that’s not deterring Moulton, who sat down with me Friday night in the bar of his Las Vegas hotel. Moulton says that he understands that his support will grow slowly, under the radar, over time—if at all.

He is starting by trying to persuade veterans and college students, emphasizing the need for a responsible Commander in Chief, and the need for generational change in national leadership.

Those have been two of his central themes since entering Congress in 2015, and he’s training them both explicitly on Donald Trump now—and more subtly on his fellow Democratic Presidential candidates.

“I think it’s time for the generation that went to Iraq and Afghanistan to take over for the generation that sent it there,” says the 40-year-old Moulton, in perhaps his simplest, most potent argument for a Moulton-esque candidacy.

It’s not the only argument, however.

Moulton is a centrist among more aggressively liberal candidates. The progressive base fawns over Bernie Sanders’s calls for economic revolution, and Elizabeth Warren’s lengthening list of plans, but it’s unclear that the majority of primary voters, let alone general-election voters, will opt for radically upending an economy that seems to be humming along pretty well.

Moulton also represents an anti-establishment sentiment within the Democratic Party—a stronger than appreciated force, that was a big part of the 2016 Sanders vote. Moulton’s resistance to some big liberal proposals is part of his party-bucking image, but so was his primary challenge to incumbent Democrat John Tierney in 2014, and his vocal attempts in late 2016, and again late last year, to force some change in House Democrats’ septuagenarian triumvirate leadership team of Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and Jim Clyburn.

That’s helped make him a familiar face on national cable TV news, which gave him some precious face time over the past week, including a Jake Tapper interview on CNN’s Sunday talk show State of the Union.

Moulton has spent the past four years recruiting, fundraising, and campaigning for congressional candidates who represent a similar centrist, party-outsider perspective. “The one sure-fire applause line anywhere in the last two years leading up to the midterms,” Moulton says, “was ‘I think it’s time for a new generation of leadership in Washington, including our own party.’”

And, Moulton believes that his military-style qualities stand out among politicians who are, well, perhaps not exactly people who Marines would follow into battle.

“I think that voters are looking for two things in this race,” Moulton says. “One, they are looking for a return to principled leadership, because we have had the polar opposite in Donald Trump. And the second is we’re looking for someone who is tough enough to go up against Donald Trump. I don’t think the recipe for someone who is tough enough to go up against him is either someone who acts like him, or someone who is squishy. I think we need someone who is strong and principled.”

Breaking through

The good news for Moulton is that he really can claim to differ from the other Democratic candidates, in potentially appealing ways.

The bad news is that he might not be able to get that message through to them as a long-shot in a field of more than 20.

The support of veterans might be crucial. Veterans were a huge boon to John Kerry’s Presidential campaign, and to John McCain’s, and might well be for Moulton. Not only does Moulton stand out as a combat veteran (Pete Buttigieg, the only other candidate with military service, was a Naval Reservist deployed to Afghanistan as an intelligence officer), but he speaks and acts with the kind of earnestness and bearing familiar to many veterans.

The Vets for Action members he met with Saturday morning came away impressed, and even inspired. One, a Navy vet, compared him with John F. Kennedy, saying “it makes me proud” to have a veteran who carries himself like Moulton in the race.

However, it’s not all fertile soil. An awful lot of vets today are deeply entrenched in right-wing ideology that leaves no room for comradeship, or even civility, with a center-left candidate regardless of military service.

At the veterans’ housing event, while Moulton was talking with the Vets for Action group, the exhibition area was hearing conservative talk from a sponsoring radio station. Later, the first two audience questions at the VFW post were about the need to defend the Southern border against illegal immigrants coming to steal government benefits.

Later a woman thrust a pointing finger toward Moulton as she loudly decried members of Congress for lining their own pockets and now demanding a raise they don’t deserve. “I’m fed up with all politicians,” yelled another man, who went on to lambaste Moulton for not supporting Trump’s border wall.

Moulton said afterward that, despite the obvious pro-Trumpers among the 50 mostly older veterans in the hall, there were others who gave him their card and offered to volunteer on the campaign.

One of Moulton’s challenges at this stage is that many of his best potential supporters—who are younger, more disaffected, and less committed to the Democratic Party—are least likely to be actively following Presidential politics this far ahead of the election.

Running as the party anti-establishment candidate also shuts Moulton off from help from the party establishment, who play an outsized role in the nomination process.

Countering that, he hopes, will be the network of supporters who have funded his Serve America political action committee, and the former candidates—many now in Congress—who he has helped.

He says that he has received positive response from that network so far, though he won’t say much about how much he hopes to raise.

For now, that leaves Moulton and his small team plugging away, day by day, largely out of the limelight that surrounds Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, and others. He’s handled worse assignments.