Alexandria Mayor James P. Moran Jr.'s victory over Northern Virginia Rep. Stan Parris Tuesday was as simple as it was shocking, political analysts said yesterday. Moran ran head-on at Parris and beat the six-term incumbent in every way he could be beaten.
Moran beat Parris in Fairfax and Prince William counties, suburban sections of the 8th Congressional District that traditionally were a Parris bulwark. He beat Parris in fund-raising this year, collecting almost $900,000 and running one of the richest non-incumbent campaigns in the country.
Moran also talked tougher than Parris, several analysts said, waging a brutally negative campaign against one of Virginia's most combative political veterans. And Moran himself said he worked harder, assembling an inexperienced but energetic campaign staff and stumping relentlessly in parts of the district Parris generally ignored.
"I felt if I was willing to go through a tough race against an entrenched incumbent, I could show I deserved the seat," Moran said. "If you're going to be successful, you have to go out and seize the initiative.
"I always draw on my experience in football and local politics. You can't show deference to your opponent. And a guy like Stan Parris was perfect for me. I knew people would not think he deserved kind and gentle treatment."
Though Moran, a Democrat, began the race as a long shot, he finished as a lopsided victor. According to unofficial election results, Moran won 52 percent of the vote and Parris, a Republican, had 45 percent.
Moran carried his home town of Alexandria by a ratio of more than 2 to 1 and squeezed out narrow victories in southern Fairfax and eastern Prince William counties, areas where Parris was heavily favored. Parris won only in northern Stafford County, which accounted for about 3 percent of the district's total votes.
Parris's loss gave Virginia Democrats six of the state's 10 House seats, marking the party's first House majority since 1966. Democrats narrowly missed defeating another Republican, as first-time candidate Andy Fox fell just two percentage points short of beating Rep. Herbert H. Bateman in the Tidewater area.
Together, analysts said, the two events spelled more bad news for the Virginia Republican Party, which has seen its power ebb to a 10-year low. "It's been a decade of disaster for Republicans," said Larry J. Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia.
Republicans "are in deep trouble, and it's getting worse by the year," Sabato said. "They are to the right of voter consensus in the state. They need to moderate. And they need new, vibrant leadership."
Joe Elton, the state party director, made little effort to dispute the gloomy assessments yesterday.
"I think we're going to turn the corner as a party . . . but we're not there yet," Elton said. "The party needs to consolidate its positions on fundamental issues, such as keeping taxes down and limiting government. We need to regroup."
Moran and several close advisers credited his victory to several factors, including his pugnacious style, his vigorous support for abortion rights and his no-crowd-is-too-small approach to personal politicking.
The Moran-Parris race was one of the most vitriolic House contests in the nation, with Moran accusing Parris of sexism and racism, and Parris hammering at Moran's conviction on a conflict-of-interest charge in 1984. But Moran said yesterday that the most explosive exchange of the campaign was, on his part, carefully calculated.
In August, Parris accused Moran of being soft on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and compared Moran to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat. Moran angrily called Parris "a deceitful, fatuous jerk" and threatened to punch him.
"I figured Parris was aiming that remark at the blue-collar crowd -- people who loathe anyone who doesn't love his country -- and I wanted their support," Moran said. "So you almost have to respond in kind to neutralize the impression that is being left.
"I could have given an intellectual, thoughtful response that would have played into his hands in many ways. Instead, I reacted the way you would if somebody called you a name in a bar."
Alan Secrest, a Moran consultant who has worked on House races across the country, said Moran's willingness to confront Parris was one of his campaign's strengths. "You'd be surprised how many challengers aren't willing to do that," Secrest said. "You have to throw up the ropes and yank down an incumbent."
Moran's support of abortion rights and Parris's opposition to abortion also worked against Parris, apparently costing him votes among women who might otherwise vote Republican, analysts said. "It was a very salient, powerful issue," said Mark J. Rozell, a political scientist at Mary Washington College.
In important ways, the campaign pitted youth and enthusiasm against age and experience. Moran, 46, was a regular visitor to early morning commuter parking lots in Prince William County and attended dozens of community forums. Parris, 61, debated Moran only three times. After Parris skipped a major candidates forum Oct. 31 in Prince William, a hand-lettered roadside sign appeared near Potomac Mills Mall asking, "Where was Stan?"
Key campaign aides also reflected the differences. Moran's campaign manager, Mame Reiley, was overseeing her first campaign, and his chief fund-raisers, Diane Gould and Linda Biles, also were rookies. His television advertising consultant, Joe Trippi, was so new to the field he agreed to work for his costs and take a bonus only if Moran won.
One of Trippi's TV ads illustrated Parris's opposition to abortion by showing women behind prison bars and ended with a picture of the Statue of Liberty in jail. It was cited by a national newspaper as one of the season's best campaign ads.
Moran said he hired Trippi over the objections of virtually all his allies, who felt Trippi was "too unpredictable."
"When you have to spend $120,000 a week on commercials, you can't afford to be subtle," Moran said, "and you probably can't afford to be a nice guy."