BECAUSE VIRGINIA does not classify voters by political party, all registered voters in the 8th Congressional District are eligible to participate in the selection of a Democratic candidate for the House on Tuesday. The choices are disappointing. Our view that incumbent James P. Moran Jr., 59, is unfit to serve in Congress is not new, nor has it changed since his last election. His opponent, Andrew M. Rosenberg, 36, is a lawyer who has never held elective office and who has shown scant knowledge of the issues affecting Northern Virginia or the metropolitan region.
Mr. Moran's transgressions over the years have been many, varied and ill-explained. There was a pugilistic skirmish with an Alexandria boy; an early morning domestic argument to which police were called; and acceptance of an unsecured, open-ended loan at below-market interest rates from a lobbyist, followed only days later by the congressman's enlistment as a co-sponsor of a bill to help the lobbyist's company preserve its monopoly on an allergy drug.
None of this kept Mr. Moran from an easy victory in 2000 over an archconservative Republican in this heavily Democratic district. After that came still worse conduct. He borrowed money from a party with direct financial interests in congressional legislation -- a favorable loan arrangement from a credit card lender that was seeking legislation to help it collect from debtors. Days after his own loan was final, Mr. Moran became the lead Democratic sponsor of an even broader bill.
Again, Democratic leaders failed to come up with a new candidate, and Mr. Moran prevailed handily over a Republican opponent in 2002. Last year, he made a remark blaming American Jews for an Iraq policy he opposed: "If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this," Mr. Moran said, as reported originally by the Reston Connection newspaper. After first responding that the remark was taken out of context, he apologized, saying he was insensitive for singling out Jewish leaders instead of American religious leaders in general.
Mr. Rosenberg's campaign has been vigorous but uninspiring, pegged to a claim that he is the true liberal, whatever that is supposed to mean. Where he differs on substance from Mr. Moran (opposing freer trade, for example), Mr. Rosenberg does not have the better of the argument. He has not, in our view, demonstrated the qualifications or stature to serve in Congress; yet if he wins in Tuesday's primary, he might represent the district for many years, given its lopsided registration. There are many Democratic elected officials and party officers in this district with more talent to take on Mr. Moran, but none had the courage to end a long-running embarrassment. The Republicans, outnumbered as they are, should intensify their challenge; this year, Lisa Marie Cheney -- not related to the vice president -- owner of a national security government relations firm, has been tapped to take on Tuesday's primary winner. For now, voters must choose between Mr. Moran, who has proven that he is not fit for the office, and Mr. Rosenberg, who has not proven that he is.