Voters in Virginia's 8th Congressional District will choose among three candidates next week, and so far the race has largely been dominated by debate over the ethics of incumbent Rep. James P. Moran (D).
Moran faces a pair of challengers, Republican Scott C. Tate and Libertarian Ronald V. Crickenberger, and there are sharp differences in approaches they would take to representing the district. Much of the discussion in the campaign, however, has been about loans Moran received from well-connected friends and a $447,500 loan from MBNA as he increased his support for bankruptcy legislation that was a top priority for the credit card company in 1998.
Moran has said that the timing of the loan was a coincidence and that he was unaware that MBNA was a major backer of the legislation. He said he did not speak with MBNA lobbyists. MBNA has said the loan was a sound business deal.
In 1999, Moran accepted a $25,000 loan from Terry Lierman, a friend and drug company lobbyist whose legislation Moran supported. In 2001, he borrowed $50,000 from James V. Kimsey, the politically active co-founder of America Online. House ethics and Justice Department investigators closed an investigation into the 1999 loan without taking action, and Moran said he disclosed the 2001 loan to House officials.
The 8th District, which has about 380,000 voters, includes all of Arlington County, Alexandria, Falls Church and parts of Fairfax County. It was redrawn after the 2000 Census to include Reston and some communities in eastern Fairfax. Political observers have said the new boundaries should provide a boost to Moran since they add traditionally Democratic-leaning voters. Moran, first elected in 1990, is running for his seventh term.
Tate has not held elected office. He ran for Arlington County Board against incumbent Barbara A. Favola (D) in 2000, and he lost a challenge to Del. Mary Margaret Whipple (D) in 1999.
He has said in several interviews that his lack of political experience should not hinder him from representing the district with integrity. "I have said all along that Jim Moran cannot be trusted," Tate said in a recent interview. "What I bring to this race is character and the ability to competently serve the residents of the district."
Tate, who owns a small computer programming business in Arlington, agrees with Moran on some issues: Both support a woman's right to an abortion, strict gun control measures and free trade. The two men differ sharply on Iraqi policy and the development of the new Homeland Defense Department. Tate supports President Bush's plans for the department; Moran voted against it mainly because of what he called encroachment on civil service workers' rights.
The candidates also differ on increasing the minimum wage (Moran favors it; Tate is opposed) and on increasing the local sales tax by a half-cent to fund road and public transportation projects. Moran has endorsed the increase, on which residents will vote next week in a referendum; Tate and Crickenberger have not.
Moran has said that Tate's comments about his personal life have been "mean-spirited" and that neither of his challengers has the necessary experience to effectively represent the 8th District. He has cited his 12 years of addressing local concerns, among them ensuring that Arlington and Alexandria received federal money for homeland security after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and securing funds for various public works projects, including repairs to the 14th Street bridge.
"The number one value I have to this district is experience," Moran said in an interview. He also touted his strong advocacy for reopening Reagan National Airport after the terrorist attacks and addressing the individual needs and concerns of his constituents.
Crickenberger has acknowledged some concern for Moran's acceptance of the loans, but he has largely focused on how he differs from his two opponents. As a Libertarian, Crickenberger argues that less federal government in the lives of residents is better, and he faults his opponents for allowing too much intrusion by Washington. He advocates a gradual phaseout of the income tax and has said that the United States should not invade Iraq. On local issues, he supports more benefits for those who telecommute as a way of solving the region's traffic woes.
"What I will work for is getting the federal government out of my constituents' lives," said Crickenberger, who serves as political director for the national Libertarian Party. "What this county needs is the ability of its residents to have more personal freedom, and that starts with less intrusion."
Crickenberger faced Moran in 2000 and received 2 percent of the vote.
Not surprisingly, Moran has raised much more money than his challengers -- nearly $1 million to Tate's $100,000 and Crickenberger's $10,000 -- mainly through individual donors.