Democrat Andrew M. Rosenberg attacks the ethics of U.S. Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D), while the congressman disparages his opponent's resume and voting record in tough ads their campaigns are sending to voters in Virginia's 8th District.
The direct mail appeals underscore the messages of an intensely personal campaign that's revving up in the final week before Tuesday's primary, with fundraisers, debates and face time with voters.
Moran, in a mailing late last week, says that his "combative style gets me in trouble," a reference to a string of controversies capped by a feud last year with American Jewish political leaders. But he says he, and not the political newcomer challenging him, will fight for Northern Virginia.
Rosenberg asks voters in a mailing to elect a congressman who "makes headlines for the right reasons."
The candidates' final push to connect with voters caps an eight-month contest marked less by differences on issues than by personal criticisms. The Moran campaign acknowledges that the challenge from the 36-year-old Washington lobbyist amounts to a referendum on the congressman's 25-year career in politics.
"We want to win, but we also want to demonstrate that Jim Moran hasn't lost his step," said Dan Lucas, his campaign manager.
Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.) is scheduled to endorse Moran at a fundraiser in Arlington tonight, and former Vermont governor and presidential candidate Howard Dean will headline a breakfast fundraiser for Moran on Friday.
Lucas said a letter will go out this week to the 8th District's Alexandria voters from Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille (D), the vice mayor and three council members on Moran's behalf.
Rosenberg, meanwhile, plans to continue his "very organic, traditional grass-roots campaign," his campaign manager, Rick Ally, said yesterday. He is still introducing himself to voters at Metro stops, walking door-to-door and stopping by coffee shops in the district, which spans Alexandria and Arlington County and includes a Fairfax County spur to Reston.
"We'll win this race if people are made aware they have a very attractive alternative," Ally said. "The average voter in Northern Virginia has put up with a lot for an awfully long time."
Rosenberg, Moran's only Democratic opponent in his seven terms, continues in four mailings to hammer at the congressman's judgments. "Had it up to here with stories about Jim Moran?" reads the front of one, which opens to a blowup of 13 newspaper headlines reporting a string of ethical and political controversies. "We deserve better," the ad concludes, calling Rosenberg the "Democratic Alternative to Jim Moran."
Moran characterizes his opponent as a closet Republican who voted for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for president in Virginia's GOP primary in 2000 and did not cast a ballot in several local Democratic contests.
One mailing scheduled to go out this week focuses on Rosenberg's lobbying for the prescription drug industry, saying he works against lower drug prices. Another contrasts the congressman's lengthy career in public service to Rosenberg's, leaving half a page blank for his opponent. "Before you listen to the rhetoric, look at the records."
Although Rosenberg hopes to capitalize on what he sees as voter exhaustion with Moran's missteps, Democratic strategists consider a Rosenberg victory a long shot. Moran had $419,870 on hand as of May 19, federal filings show. Rosenberg had $98,690.
The winner of Tuesday's primary will face Republican Lisa Marie Cheney in November.
Moran, 58, has faced a string of allegations of financial and ethical conflicts of interest, and last year was met with stinging criticism for comments at an antiwar forum in Reston that American Jews were pushing the country toward war with Iraq. Rosenberg is playing to these issues in his campaign mailings, quoting Susan Puskas O'Hara, widow of former representative James G. O'Hara (D-Mich.), in one saying, "I've always voted for Jim Moran, but this time I can't."
During an appearance with Rosenberg yesterday on WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi Show, Moran said his remarks were not anti-Semitic and said his statement last year was taken out of context.
Moran tries to turn his perceived weaknesses to his advantage in two confessional mailings. "There are smoother and more eloquent politicians," says one. He acknowledges in another that he is "learning from my mistakes and will never stop fighting for the people of Northern Virginia.
"He's a flesh-and-blood, human politician," Lucas said, "not a blow-dried, focus-grouped candidate."
A majority of elected Democrats in the district have endorsed Moran. But he has waged a door-to-door campaign every bit as grass roots as his opponent's, Lucas said.
"It was an un-modern campaign, with no TV, no radio, no electronics, just gatherings in small groups."