A June 6 Metro article on the 8th Congressional District primary misstated the location of the new home of Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.). His home will be in Arlington County. (Published 6/8/04)

Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor and Democratic presidential candidate, was racing to rev up a get-out-the-vote rally for Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) when a reporter stopped him last week at a Tysons Corner hotel.

"Governor Dean, are you two peas in a passion pod?" asked Gary Reals of WUSA-TV (Channel 9), in a wry reference to the two feisty and emotional politicians.

Dean's smile vanished as he answered in a monotone. "If I thought Jim Moran had said what he allegedly said, I wouldn't be here now. I think anti-Semitism is a very serious problem. . . . I don't believe he is [an anti-Semite]. I see no evidence to the contrary."

In answering a question he wasn't asked, Dean's point was clear: Moran's opponent has sought to make Tuesday's Democratic primary in Virginia's 8th Congressional District a referendum on his character, and his 25-year political career is on the line.

There have been no recent public polls in the race, but all signs point to challenger Andrew M. Rosenberg, an Alexandria lawyer and lobbyist, playing the role of David to Moran's Goliath.

Moran, however, is a wounded giant, stung most recently by the accusation of his longtime aide and pollster, Alan Secrest, that Moran made an anti-Semitic remark in a campaign meeting March 18. Secrest did not disclose what Moran said, and Moran denied making any anti-Semitic statement.

In March 2003, he infuriated Jewish and non-Jewish voters by telling an antiwar forum, "If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this." Moran also said that Jewish leaders "are influential enough" to forestall a war.

Big Democratic names -- former Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman Katherine K. Hanley, former congresswoman and state senator Leslie L. Byrne, Arlington County Board member Jay Fisette and Jeremy B. Bash, campaign aide to former vice president Al Gore -- each took steps to run against Moran before dropping out for various reasons.

Yet questions about whether Moran's experience, work ethic and underdog charm outweigh self-professed lapses in judgment have driven the primary campaign, to the exclusion of issues on which the two men mostly agree as socially liberal Democrats.

The controversy has made Rosenberg, 36, something of a supporting actor in the contest. With a limited budget, the health care and trial lawyer lobbyist who formerly worked for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) has relied on a grass-roots, door-to-door and mail campaign to package himself as an acceptable "Democratic alternative" to Moran who won't embarrass politically sophisticated Northern Virginia.

The anyone-but-Moran message has led Moran, 59, a former Alexandria mayor and stockbroker who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, to focus on reconnecting with voters and proving that he has delivered more bacon to the district than his rival could hope to.

"I think there's always going to be a cloud hanging over Moran, but if he survives this challenge, I think he will continue to survive politically," said Mark J. Rozell, political scientist at Catholic University, before adding: "This is the chance to really have that referendum within the Democratic Party: Is Moran worth it? Is what he brings to the district worth all this trouble?"

Both sides plan for a low turnout. As few as 20,000 votes could elect the winner, although last-minute publicity could drive up the vote. Moran has not faced a primary since he beat a Republican incumbent in 1990. No other races are on the ballot in the district, which includes Alexandria, Arlington, Falls Church and a spur of Fairfax County to Reston.

Rosenberg has raised and spent about $400,000 and visited 30,000 homes, sent mail to 50,000 households and called about 5,000 voters as of last week.

Moran has raised about $1 million and spent most of it, targeting 45,000 homes and spreading a much wider blanket of telephone calls and mail.

The campaign has unfolded as a contrast of styles and circumstances more than a clash of visions.

Rosenberg, a bachelor who lives in Old Town Alexandria and who took a leave as a seventh-year associate at Washington law firm Patton Boggs to campaign, has some connections in the capital legal community but is a political neophyte. His campaign could not afford to pay for television advertisements in Washington's expensive media market.

A last-minute radio ad touts Rosenberg's community activism "in everything from the Little League to the American Red Cross" and asks a woman whether she plans to vote Tuesday.

"Are you kidding? I don't want to vote for Jim Moran," she says, before being told, "Well . . . actually, you don't have to."

Rosenberg noted that Virginia voters do not register by party, so Democrats, Republicans and independents can vote.

"We welcome support from anyone who comes out to vote, but there's no effort on our part to get out the Republican vote. This is a Democratic primary," said Rosenberg, a Philadelphia native and University of Virginia law and graduate school degree holder.

"If we had money to go on TV, that would have been a great opportunity, but that costs a lot of money," he said.

Moran, who is engaged to be married next weekend for the third time and who is moving into a McLean mansion, has racked up establishment support ranging from labor unions to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, from 48 locally elected Democrats to such high-profile liberals as Dean and Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-R.I.).

Under a header "Seeing is believing," a typical Moran mailing lists 23 categories of projects through which he has helped to funnel billions of federal dollars to constituents, from library technology for Arlington and Alexandria schools to defense contracts to drug and gang law enforcement grants to support for Wolf Trap and Classika Theater: "You don't have to ask what Jim Moran has done for Northern Virginia. . . . His accomplishments are all around."

Moran chose not to raise large amounts of cash in favor of a kaffeeklatsch campaign. Friends said Moran has become more guarded this year, if not withdrawn, limiting the role of an inner circle that included Dean media consultant Joe Trippi; Mame Reiley, an aide to Gov. Mark R. Warner (D); and Secrest.

"I happened to be running a grass-roots campaign for a long time. I had a sense I was getting out of touch with the people I served," Moran said. "I preferred to spend my time with the people who actually vote and to relate directly to them, and that's why I wanted to run a different kind of campaign."

Tuesday's election will decide whether Moran continues a cycle of trial and recovery that has marked his entire career.

He resigned as Alexandria vice mayor in 1984 after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor conflict-of-interest charge for voting on a city garage project in which he was an investor. Moran was later elected mayor and the verdict set aside.

While a congressman, Moran has withstood criticism from public-interest groups for accepting, among other things, an unsecured $25,000 loan from a drug company lobbyist whose bill he supported and a $447,000 debt consolidation mortgage package from a credit card giant whose legislation he carried.

A shoving match on the House floor with a colleague, for which Moran later apologized, a challenge to box then-D.C. Mayor Marion Barry (D) for charity and a dispute with his ex-wife that drew a police response all became part of Moran's bad-boy lore.

Rosenberg, dogged and diligent, said Moran has reached the end of the line. "He failed to understand what was going on with voter fatigue at what he's done. . . . He's been unapologetic and defiant," Rosenberg said.

Moran, in a Boston accent familiar to cable TV news viewers as well as constituents, said: "I can live with myself. When I look in the mirror, I know I am looking at someone who is very human but tries to do the right thing, who believes in this country, believes in the community that I serve and will continue to [serve], whatever happens politically."

James P. Moran Jr. was stung by a recent allegation that he made an anti-Semitic remark in March, which he denies.Andrew M. Rosenberg, 36, is relying on an "anyone but Moran" message.