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Moran sticks to his past

That opened the door for Murray to reference Moran's links to a recent scandal.

"Earmarks do work really well if you're trying to get reelected, and they've worked really well for Jim in that capacity," Murray said, accusing Moran of using "pay-to-play" practices.

In February, the House ethics committee cleared Moran and a half-dozen other lawmakers after investigating their efforts to steer hundreds of millions of federal dollars to clients of a now-shuttered lobbying firm -- the Arlington-based PMA Group.

Those clients, and PMA employees, gave the lawmakers several hundred thousand dollars in campaign contributions. Former PMA head Paul Magliocchetti pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations.

Moran acknowledged that the public doesn't have high regard for earmarks at the moment. "I think there's distaste because they don't understand what is an earmark," he said. "The Wilson Bridge was an earmark."

Murray repeatedly has criticized the "ill-advised Mark Center Project" in Alexandria, which he calls "a monument to Jim Moran's failed leadership." As part of the Pentagon's base-realignment program, more than 6,000 workers are scheduled to move to Mark Center in the coming years, adding traffic to the already-clogged Interstate 395 and surrounding roads.

At the debate, Murray accused Moran of claiming to oppose the Mark Center now while having done nothing to oppose its being built in the first place, even though he is a member of the Appropriations defense subcommittee that funded the project.

Asked by the debate moderator if he wanted to respond, Moran said he wouldn't because "it gets me too upset. And I'm not supposed to get upset at these debates."

(Moran has pushed to cap the number of cars allowed to park at Mark Center at 1,000. The House approved Moran's proposal in May as part of the defense authorization bill for 2011, but the House and Senate have yet to agree on the legislation.)

Murray opposes earmarks and said he is "a fiscal conservative" but is less definitive when it comes to social issues.

On abortion, Murray said the issue should be left to the states but wouldn't say whether he personally believes the procedure should be illegal. He has called Roe v. Wade "the worst decision ever handed down by the Supreme Court."

He also said gay marriage should be decided by the states. Murray defeated openly gay lawyer Matthew Berry in the June GOP primary. During that campaign, he sent out a mailer saying Berry "favors gay marriage in Virginia," though Berry said he thought the issue should be decided "state-by-state by the democratic process."

Moran, who is pro-choice and supports same-sex marriage rights, said he thought Murray's positions on those issues were "out of the mainstream in Northern Virginia."

Partly because the 8th District is convenient to Washington, Murray has benefited from visits by a steady stream of big-name Republicans, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge hosted an event for Murray on Wednesday night, and Thursday will bring a "Bush/Cheney Alumni & Friends" reception.

All that GOP support for Murray doesn't shake Moran's belief that 2010 won't be much different than the past several elections.

"I've never lost, and I'm not going to lose to somebody who moved here a year and a half ago," Moran said.

Murray moved back to the district a year and a half ago, but also lived there for eight years earlier in his career. And regardless of what happens in November, Murray said, "I'm committed to this area."

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