2 in GOP Aim to Take On Moran

By Annie Gowen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 8, 2006

Two Republicans are vying in Tuesday's primary for the chance to challenge eight-term U.S. Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D) in Virginia's 8th Congressional District this fall.

Mark Ellmore, a mortgage broker and motivational speaker, and Tom O'Donoghue, a veteran of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, are running campaigns centered on conservative themes such as border security and staying the course in Iraq.

The winner will take on Moran in the general election Nov. 7, along with independent candidate James T. Hurysz, 59, an Arlington quality control expert.

Republicans concede that the primary winner may have a tough challenge in the fall in the heavily Democratic 8th District, which consists of Alexandria and Arlington, Falls Church and a slice of eastern Fairfax County.

Moran's sometimes controversial statements and temper-fueled antics have made him a target in the past. But two years ago, the congressman managed to weather a national controversy over a statement about the Jewish community pushing for war -- which he says was taken out of context -- and a strong primary challenge. He retook his seat with 60 percent of the vote.

Both Republican challengers stress their conservative credentials while trying to position themselves as "safe" -- as Ellmore puts it -- alternatives to Moran.

On many key issues -- such as the Iraq war and national security -- Moran is "just plain wrong," O'Donoghue said.

O'Donoghue, 41, who often cites Ronald Reagan as an influence, says that his campaign is built around two major themes: lessening the country's dependence on foreign oil through alternative fuels and addressing illegal immigration with tightened border controls, including a fence.

He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and an Army reservist who quit his job to volunteer to serve in Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001. He served in Kabul, working on setting up a joint project for the Army and civilians to build roads and schools. He went to Iraq in 2003 and did similar work, ultimately winning a Bronze Star for his service. He now works as an account manager for the data firm LexisNexis.

O'Donoghue lives with his wife, Kathy, and three young children in the Kingstowne area of Fairfax County, just blocks from Ellmore, who is divorced and has two children.

Ellmore, 47, has stressed his hometown ties during campaign sweeps to meet primary voters in Fairfax County, where he grew up as one of seven children in a small three-bedroom rancher in the Virginia Hills neighborhood.

Ellmore, who considers himself an evangelical Christian and attends McLean Bible Church, calls himself a "real conservative" who is "pro-life and pro-family." He also says illegal immigration is a top concern among voters in the district and, like his opponent, favors a fence to tighten security along the U.S.-Mexico border. He also is against any amnesty for illegal immigrants, he said. His other top priority is curbing what he called reckless spending by Congress.

Both men agree that transportation improvements and the job losses stemming from the recent decisions by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission are the top local concerns. They hope to fill vacant office space left by the more than 20,000 defense workers and contractors departing Crystal City and elsewhere in Northern Virginia.

Neither man has raised much money, which could make a fall campaign challenging. Ellmore has raised $14,748 and has $7,798 on hand, and O'Donoghue has raised $5,284 and has $237 on hand, according to Federal Election Commission documents. Moran, by contrast, has raised $889,573 and has $473,815 on hand.

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