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A Time to Reevaluate Family Ties

U.S. Rep. Jim Moran looms large in his younger brother Brian's attempt to jump from the state's House of Delegates to the governor's mansion in Virginia this year.

Brian learned to survive on political scraps as well -- but also to forage on his own. As a state delegate from 1996 until last year representing Alexandria and a tiny corner of Fairfax County, he has lived quite literally in Jim's shadow. Jim Moran has served Virginia's 8th District since 1991, and he is an institution in the state's two most progressive communities, Arlington and Alexandria. His congressional district entirely encompasses the area Brian represented. Even in appearance, Brian is a shadow of his brother: a younger, trimmer, uncannily similar model -- but without the blaze of white hair or bushy eyebrows.

"I love your dad, too!" a supporter exclaimed recently at an Alexandria restaurant, obviously meaning Jim.

Brian is young enough to have been guided by his brother like a son, yet also young enough to have been far removed from Jim's life in Alexandria, which began in 1968.

Brian spent college breaks in Alexandria, helping Jim campaign for City Council. He moved to Washington to attend law school at Catholic University, worked briefly for Congress, then launched a career as a prosecutor in Arlington. As he started down the path toward public office, he began to move away, on some issues, from his brother's more liberal record. In the House of Delegates, Brian supported then-Gov. George Allen's effort to eliminate parole; he also became a booster for gun rights. The brothers share advocacy of abortion rights, civil rights and state funding for schools and social services, but there are contrasts; Jim is known as a partisan fighter and earned an "F" from the National Rifle Association.

"I'm a good friend of Jim's," said L.F. Payne, a conservative Democrat who served with Jim Moran in Congress and is supporting Brian for governor. "But I see Brian as a very thoughtful, moderate guy who really can be very effective, not only for the area he served in Northern Virginia but for people across the state."

Jim Moran has a political organization that he is more than happy to share with his brother. He has also contributed $50,000 to his brother's campaign. And with almost $600,000 in the bank as of last fall and no limits on how much more he can give under federal and Virginia laws, Jim is likely to write another check or two.

If anything, the congressman's liberal voting record and his efforts on behalf of federal workers should help his brother in the Democratic primary as he runs to the left of rivals McAuliffe and Deeds. But that record could quickly become a drag if he reaches the general election.

Perhaps the toughest challenge he faces is not outrunning his older brother's political record but distancing himself from Jim's gaffes. Jim has earned unfavorable attention over the years for shoving another congressman on the floor of the House, scuffling with an 8-year-old boy in Alexandria who pretended to point a gun at Moran while trying to snatch his keys, and supporting a bankruptcy reform bill after accepting a favorable home equity loan from a lender. Most spectacularly, he blamed the pro-Israel lobby and "the Jewish community" for pushing the country to war with Iraq, earning the enmity of Jews and non-Jews alike.

Even President Obama, when Jim Moran endorsed him last year, issued a statement distancing himself from Moran's remarks about Jews.

"I don't think there has been a member of Congress who has said worse things about Jewish values and the Jewish community than Jim Moran," said Rabbi Jack Moline of the Agudas Achim congregation in Alexandria.

Jim Moran blames himself for the negative public perceptions that his brother has registered in some recent political surveys. Yet Brian Moran credits his brother for the widespread name recognition that those polls also capture. And not everyone assumes guilt by association: Moline, for instance, has endorsed Brian.

Brian Moran is also quick, at times, to stand by his brother's side. He did that at Jim Moran's worst political moment, at Brian's annual St. Patrick's Day pancake breakfast in Alexandria a few years ago, as his brother apologized to the crowd for his comments about Jews.

"Family is most important when you're in the valley," Brian recalled. "Not when you're on the mountaintop."

And yet, as Brian tries to reach the highest peak of his political career, that balancing act will continue: leaning on his brother -- and standing on his own -- as the need arises.

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