When Republican congressional candidate Lisa Marie Cheney stepped up to the lectern at the Arlington County Civic Federation candidate forum on a recent evening, she wasted no time on pleasantries.
"I'm Lisa Marie Cheney, and I'm here to tell you I'm the best choice to replace the embarrassing behavior of Congressman Jim Moran," Cheney said.
She later turned to the seven-term congressman and accused him of giving the 8th Congressional District a "black eye and a bloody nose" because of his "hot temper and questionable legislative practices" -- a statement that drew scattered boos amid the applause from about 200 Arlington residents on hand.
After surviving a primary challenge from a fellow Democrat in June, U.S. Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (Va.) now faces a little-known Republican -- with a familiar last name -- who has made lambasting Moran's character and public missteps the central theme in her campaign in the general election.
Sitting down for an interview at her campaign headquarters in Old Town Alexandria, Cheney made no apologies for her direct, personal attacks on Moran.
"I took the opportunity to hammer him while he was there," she said. "This individual should no longer be our representative."
Cheney, 39, is a lifelong resident of Alexandria who owns a defense consulting company. She is frequently quizzed by voters who assume she's a relative of Vice President Cheney; in fact, her husband, David Peter Cheney, a Navy commander, is distantly related to the vice president, she said.
Moran said Lisa Marie Cheney has been forced to attack his character because many of her positions -- she supports the Iraq war and tax cuts and opposes abortion -- are not the views of most voters in the district.
"That's all she talks about because she knows that on the issues, her positions are juxtaposed to the majority in Northern Virginia. If you are wrong on the issues, your consultant is going to say, 'Attack the person's character,' " Moran said in an interview. "I've run for office more than a dozen times, and with each election my opponents tried to attack me on the character issue because they knew they're going to lose on how hard I work and my position on the issues."
At a town hall-style meeting on the Iraq war that Moran hosted in Falls Church last week, he reiterated his opposition to the war, which he said is the top worry on the minds of his constituents.
"In going into Iraq, we've made the U.S. less safe and less secure. We've destabilized many parts of the world we should be working with as allies," Moran said to warm applause.
He said he has spent much of his time recently talking with constituents about Republican policies he has opposed. He said his concerns include tax cuts and the federal deficit, as well as Congress's failure to reauthorize the ban on assault rifles.
Closer to home, Moran said, he redoubled his efforts to help secure federal funding to extend Metrorail to Dulles International Airport. Cheney also supports that plan.
Even with her tough campaign rhetoric, political observers said, Cheney faces an uphill battle to unseat the incumbent in a Democratic-leaning district during a presidential election year when voter turnout is expected to be high. Virginia's 8th District was redrawn in 2001 and now includes Alexandria, Arlington, Falls Church and a small part of Fairfax County, including precincts in Reston.
Local politicians said voters have appeared willing to forgive Moran after controversies stemming from temper-fueled dust-ups and questions about loans because they see him as a hard-working representative with a liberal voting record in tune with the district.
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. He was involved in a shoving match on the House floor with a colleague, for which Moran later apologized.
"It's usually the same story every year. Here is this ethically challenged guy who has got all this baggage. Every candidate runs a campaign against him on that basis, and Moran wins," said Mark J. Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University. "The reality is, it's a heavily Democratic-drawn district. . . . Electorally, he's very safe despite his shortcomings. She's a relative unknown, a political novice."
Moran endured what supporters say was a chastening primary challenge in the spring from lobbyist Andrew M. Rosenberg and spent more than $900,000 of his $1.28 million campaign fund. Rosenberg received 41 percent of the vote to Moran's 59 percent.
Cheney's supporters say they hope they will be able to draw on anti-Moran sentiment as Rosenberg did.
"It's like everyone forgets the things he has done," said Barbara DePauw, an Arlington resident who attended the candidate forum. "Hey people, it happened. . . . He can embarrass us again. I think we need a new person in place we can be proud of."
Democrats say party members who might have turned away from Moran during the primary will probably return to the fold on Nov. 2 because they agree with Moran on larger issues.
"Lisa Marie Cheney's stand on the issues are anathema to most of the people in the 8th District," said Susan B. Kellom, chairman of the Alexandria Democratic Committee. "Nobody takes anything for granted. We are fighting for Jim Moran."
Rozell said Cheney had recently "ratcheted it up a notch," citing a Cheney fundraising letter that detailed Moran's past troubles and infuriated his supporters.
"Every time I think about Jim Moran's behavior, I shake my head in disgust and embarrassment," Cheney wrote in the letter. "Will you join my team to restore honesty and integrity to our congressional office and build a better future for America?"
She then added a list of Moran's alleged failings, including an accusation that he "beat his wife." Her political adviser, Brent Littlefield, said that charge refers to a 1999 incident when police were called to the Alexandria home of Moran and his then-wife, Mary, who accused Moran of grabbing her and pushing her down on a bed. No charges were filed.
"She has sent letters out that are just scurrilous," said Moran, 59. "I just hope that those people who know me dismiss it as the untrue, scandalous stuff people resort to when they're trying to avoid a debate on the issues. Each campaign, the personal attacks get more vicious."
So far, Cheney has fallen far short of her goal to raise $1.8 million, the amount she believed was needed to defeat Moran. By June, she had spent most of the $136,000 she had raised, according to Federal Election Commission reports. She has raised an additional $100,000 since then, she said, mostly from small individual donations.
Jim Hurysz, a Democrat running as an independent in the race, said Cheney has distracted voters from what he considers the real issues.
"Voters are talking about the situation in Iraq, talking about the economy, talking about health insurance and infrastructure," said Hurysz, 57, a quality assurance consultant and Fairlington resident.