Rep. James. P. Moran Jr. made a last push yesterday to connect with voters he acknowledges he alienated after a string of personal and public flare-ups that led him to face his first challenge from a fellow Democrat.
As Moran enlisted other elected officials to help him win the nomination in tomorrow's primary and hang on to the seat he has held for seven terms, challenger Andrew M. Rosenberg hammered at the themes of a campaign in which he has questioned Moran's judgment more than his vision for the 8th Congressional District.
Rosenberg said he welcomed the higher profile brought to the campaign by the latest controversy surrounding his opponent, an allegation last week by Moran's former pollster that he heard Moran make an anti-Semitic remark. Rosenberg, 36, lobbyist from Alexandria, is a relative unknown who remained standing after several better-known Northern Virginia Democrats backed out of the race.
"The idea for the next two days is that every waking moment I should be out meeting people," Rosenberg said as he approached a table of diners at a festival hosted by St. Katherine's Greek Orthodox Church in Falls Church. "A lot of regular people are very opinionated about this race, and they feel empowered. Congressman Moran brings out a lot of very strong opinions on either side."
Moran, 59, walked the streets of his home base in Alexandria's Del Ray neighborhood yesterday afternoon, winding down a campaign that focused on talking to voters to whom he said he wanted to make amends.
He sought over the weekend to reassure his constituents and his staff that his 20-year adviser and pollster, Alan Secrest, invented an accusation that Moran made an anti-Semitic remark in a private campaign meeting in March. Secrest, who severed his ties with Moran last month amid a dispute over money and campaign strategy, has not disclosed the words he says Moran used. Moran has denied that he made such a comment and called the charge a "fabrication" by a disgruntled vendor whose advice he decided not to follow.
"It's not just a matter of winning, but the most important thing is the way we conduct ourselves," Moran told a rally of 30 staff members and volunteers in front of St. Elmo's Coffee Pub on Mount Vernon Avenue. "We want to be as principled as we know in our hearts is the right way to be." The workers then fanned out to distribute fliers door-to-door.
Scrambling to defuse political damage from Secrest's comments last week, the campaign asked several popular state and local Democrats to record automated phone calls to voters, hoping to counter the allegation of anti-Semitism with their general enthusiasm for Moran.
Among his recruits were Fairfax County supervisors Gerald W. Hyland (Mount Vernon), T. Dana Kauffman (Lee) and Penelope A. Gross (Mason), state Sen. Linda T. "Toddy" Puller (Fairfax), Del. Mark D. Sickles (Fairfax) and Barbara A. Favola, chairman of the Arlington County Board.
"It was the only way we could combat it," Dan Lucas, Moran's campaign manager, said of Secrest's charge.
The campaign also sent a pointed letter of support, signed by state Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax), to thousands of Moran's constituents. "You may have read or heard today about the completely unfounded allegations made by a former pollster vendor in the employ of Jim's past campaigns," Saslaw wrote. "I have known Jim Moran for 25 years, and he is not an anti-Semite, and, by the way, I happen to be Jewish."
He called the attack "outrageous." The letter was sent to homes in areas with large concentrations of Jewish Democrats, Lucas said. The 8th District, redrawn in 2000, includes Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church and a slice of Fairfax County that extends to Reston.
As Moran knocked on doors on Del Ray Avenue and reminisced about his early career as a civic activist fighting for black residents' right to home loans, he acknowledged that his former pollster's accusation was "not a positive under any circumstances," especially coming five days before the primary. But many voters recognized him, and others said they supported him anyway.
"You've got two votes out of this household," John Stephens told the congressman, opening his door. "It's a tough one." As Moran walked to the next house, Stephens, a State Department employee, said he was aware "that there has been some controversy."
"But I'm still behind him because he's effective and I like his politics."
Meanwhile, Rosenberg continued to emphasize the issues that he said led him to offer voters another choice and give Moran his first re-nomination fight. The challenger made the campaign a referendum on Moran's character, questioning his ethics and judgment in accepting a loan from a drug company lobbyist whose bill he supported and a debt consolidation mortgage from a credit card company whose legislation he sponsored. Other public disputes -- one with his ex-wife, one with a boy who he thought was trying to steal his car and another with a House colleague -- were capped by criticism from Jewish leaders last year after Moran suggested that American Jews were pushing the country into war with Iraq.
Of the latest dispute over Secrest's allegation, Rosenberg said he could not be sure what was or wasn't said in a private meeting. But Moran's feud with his pollster "reaffirms that Congressman Moran attracts controversy," he said. He said he was pleased that the "quiet, dogged campaign" he has run now has a higher profile, which he said will help him at the polls.
Amanda Giovanni of Alexandria shook Rosenberg's hand at the festival and told him she plans to vote for him -- not because she knew him but because she wants a change. "Moran has been around for a long time," Giovanni said. "Once that happens, people become complacent. A new person will have more energy and work harder for the district."
With no other races on the ballot, both camps said they were concerned about low turnout, especially because the candidates, both socially liberal Democrats, agree on many issues. The winner will face Republican Lisa Marie Cheney of Alexandria, who owns a government relations consulting firm, in the November election.