By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe may have a Clinton on his side, but rival Brian Moran showed last night that he's got some high-wattage Democratic support of his own, holding a fundraiser at the McLean home of Ethel Kennedy.
The widow of Robert F. Kennedy has endorsed Moran's campaign for governor, as has her nephew U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.). The Moran campaign hopes that voters will see natural parallels between the family of the former Alexandria delegate and the Kennedy clan.
Moran, who has tried to cast himself as the race's most progressive candidate, is a Massachusetts-born Irish Catholic from a politically active family. An older brother, U.S. Rep. James P. Moran Jr., represents Alexandria in Congress, and Brian Moran served as a prosecutor in the city before spending 12 years in the House of Delegates.
Floating the Kennedy name serves two purposes. It helps Moran establish his progressive credentials and pulls some attention from McAuliffe, the nationally known former Democratic National Committee chairman who three times has hit the campaign trail in Virginia with former president Bill Clinton.
State Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath), the other candidate competing in the June 9 Democratic primary, has joked that he stumped with the most famous politician in southwest Virginia, Rep. Rick Boucher.
The Moran campaign took the unusual step of opening last night's fundraiser to reporters to help build the public association between the Morans and the Kennedys.
"The Kennedy family are viewed by many Democrats as America's first family," said campaign chairwoman Mame Reiley. Reiley said she first became involved in politics at age 14, working with a group organizing young Democrats for Robert Kennedy.
About 275 people attended the event at the Kennedy homestead, Hickory Hill, and the campaign estimated that the gathering raised $150,000.
Guests were greeted at the door by the Morans and Ethel Kennedy before making their way inside, where historic documents hang on the walls along with landscape paintings and portraits. The documents include an original copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, signed by Abraham Lincoln, and a copy of President John F. Kennedy's inaugural address with a handwritten note: "To Bobby and Ethel, from Jack."
"He has integrity and courage," the Kennedy family matriarch said of Moran. "He's so smart and has great energy. He really cares about the people."
Moran said the "Kennedys represent fighting for the underdog. . . . The Kennedys are a role model for those of us in public service."
The Morans came to know the Kennedys in part through the Rev. Gerry Creedon, a Catholic priest close to both families. Creedon, now based in Arlington, has known Ethel Kennedy for more than 30 years, and he has collaborated with Moran on work for charitable organizations.
Elisabeth Smith, a spokeswoman for McAuliffe, said McAuliffe's campaign chose Clinton as a surrogate to reinforce a specific message -- that McAuliffe would create jobs the way his friend did as president and Arkansas governor.
Moran supporters suggested that the Kennedy connection highlights Moran's work for low-income Virginians and his call for providing health insurance to every child in the state.
The Clinton-Kennedy divide also echoes the presidential campaign of a year ago. Endorsements by members of the Kennedy family helped propel Barack Obama past Hillary Rodham Clinton during the long primary campaign. Now Moran wants to position himself as the natural heir to Obama's effort in Virginia. McAuliffe has not ceded that ground, however, insisting that his campaign, with its organizational strength, resembles Obama's far more than Moran's does.
Deeds, meanwhile, campaigned in Fairfax County yesterday with former U.S. representative Leslie R. Byrne (D-Va.). She ran for lieutenant governor in 2005, when Deeds was the party's candidate for attorney general. She said yesterday that she thinks Deeds is in the best position to defeat Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert F. McDonnell in November.