A June 9 article on Rep. James P. Moran Jr.'s primary victory in Virginia's 8th Congressional District mischaracterized a vote by the Greater Washington chapter of Americans for Democratic Action. The group's board decided to adopt a neutral stance in the Democratic primary. (Published 6/12/04)
Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (Va.) won renomination yesterday in a Democratic primary that became a debate between the seven-term congressman from Northern Virginia and his relatively little-known opponent, Andrew M. Rosenberg, about the incumbent's fitness for office.
Moran defeated Rosenberg, a lawyer and lobbyist from Alexandria, with a door-to-door, low-tech campaign in which he sought to reassure voters that his seniority and record of delivering for his suburban district outweighed his personal and political missteps.
Facing his first primary challenge, Moran, 59, ran with the fervor of an underdog to win back those constituents he feared he had estranged.
"It was all about me," he said before thanking supporters at his Arlington headquarters. "In 25 years in public service, I've invested a lot in this community."
Moran's victory, 59 percent to Rosenberg's 41 percent, was substantial, but he said he was disappointed that the margin was not larger.
"It's a good vote total, but from my point of view, it should have been 90 to 10," he said.
Moran, who lives in Arlington County, was heavily favored to win. He had the backing of a majority of the 8th Congressional District's elected Democrats and more than double his opponent's campaign cash.
But last week, Moran's pollster, Alan Secrest, said he quit the campaign after the congressman made a remark that Secrest said was anti-Semitic during a private meeting of campaign advisers. Moran and two other advisers who were in the room said the accusation was untrue, and Secrest would not disclose what Moran said.
Supporters and opponents alike said the controversy raised the race's profile and brought them to the polls.
Rosenberg, 36, said he was proud he had offered voters a Democratic alternative to Moran.
"It's obviously always difficult to run against an incumbent," he said. "There's no question that Congressman Moran has a strong and loyal base of support."
Political observers said that Rosenberg, a former aide to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), failed to energize voters with a vision for the socially and politically liberal district that was markedly different from Moran's. Running as the anti-Moran wasn't enough, they said.
"He had very little in the way of leadership experience," Arlington County Board member Paul Ferguson (D) said of Rosenberg. "His positions on the issues were like apple pie for a Democratic candidate. . . . There wasn't very much substantive that was new."
The congressman ran up his largest margins in Alexandria, where he won his first City Council seat in the Del Ray neighborhood in 1979 and later served as mayor. With just one contest on the ballot, about 12 percent of the 8th District's 349, 527 active registered voters went to the polls. The heavily Democratic district was redrawn in 2000 to extend west of Moran's home base of Alexandria and Arlington into Falls Church, Reston and other slivers of Fairfax County.
Moran said he planned to turn his attention to his wedding next week, then take some time off before taking on his Republican opponent, Lisa Marie Cheney, a government relations consultant from Alexandria who was nominated in May at a party convention. Moran also faces independent James Hurycz of Arlington in the November general election.
Cheney said she will challenge Moran's record on homeland security issues. But she faces big hurdles in a district that Democrats have controlled for decades.
Moran's electoral appeal has endured through personal and political troubles that have alternately turned voters and colleagues against him and drawn them to his side.
That trail included a bitter divorce; an incident in which Moran grabbed an 8-year-old boy who he said demanded his car keys; a dispute in which Moran shoved a House colleague; and controversies over his acceptance of two personal loans from creditors with business interests in legislation he supported.
In March 2003, Moran acknowledged saying at an antiwar forum in Reston that American Jews were pushing the county into war with Iraq. The remark infuriated American Jewish leaders and some House Democrats and led Moran to give up a leadership post in the House Democratic Caucus.
Yesterday, those controversies resonated with many voters, whether they wanted the congressman in or out.
"I'd like to see someone other than Jim Moran in Congress," said Cynthia Magazine, a community activist voting in Old Town Alexandria. "He votes right, but he's got foot-in-mouth disease. He's lost his ability to be persuasive. I don't think anybody takes him seriously. All those financial shenanigans?"
Others said they were swayed by the Secrest controversy to support Moran because they felt he was unfairly accused.
"I think [the Secrest allegation] is a phony issue," said Bob Rackmales, 66, a retired Foreign Service officer from Alexandria. "The hyping of it crystallized my decision to vote for Moran and erased any lingering doubts. I was not prepared to vote against someone on the basis of a totally ridiculous charge. . . . I know Jim Moran is not an anti-Semite."
Rosenberg was the only Democratic challenger remaining after a pack of better-known elected officials decided not to run against Moran.
At the polls, some said they were voting against the incumbent rather than for the challenger.
"I think it may be time for a change," said Marcie Corbett, 65, a Fairfax County resident. "I think Mr. Moran has done a good enough job, but he has an anger management problem, basically."
Many of his supporters said Moran's continued political survival comes down to a perception that he takes care of his district's interests.
"He delivers," said Fairfax County Supervisor T. Dana Kauffman (D-Lee), recalling how Moran secured federal funding to refurbish Richmond Highway and worked to build a road network to open the area around Fort Belvoir to local traffic after security-related closures caused traffic congestion. "Every politician has foibles, but what means the most is, do they deliver for their district?"
Said Kerry J. Donley, a former Alexandria mayor who is now chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party: "Jim has 25 years of service as an elected official, and that just as often connects with voters as much as some of the negatives. People like his passion and conviction."
He ran an unusual campaign for a long-term incumbent, choosing low-key, grass-roots gatherings with voters over a more high-tech, television-heavy strategy suggested by some advisers, including Secrest.
He shook hands with morning commuters at Metro stations. He held coffees in constituents' living rooms to reintroduce himself to voters, whom he acknowledged he alienated with his public flare-ups. He sent mailings to voters last week citing his experience but also his humanity, an image his campaign manager, Dan Lucas, said he wanted to convey to distinguish Moran from "every other blow-dried, focus-grouped politician."
"People were able to see Jim as a regular person," said Lucas, who also ran Hillary Rodham Clinton's successful Senate campaign in New York. "Any other campaign would not have worked. There was nothing we could have put on television to address this myriad of stuff."
Throughout the campaign, Rosenberg hammered at Moran's ethics and raised questions about his personal judgments. But toward the end, Rosenberg also sought to define himself as the true liberal in the race, criticizing Moran's support for free trade, his endorsement by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and his one-time opposition to a late-term abortion procedure that foes call "partial birth" abortion.
By last week, Rosenberg was calling Moran a "conservative, big-business" Democrat. Moran fought back, highlighting Rosenberg's lobbying work representing pharmaceutical companies and calling him the friend of business interests.
Rosenberg temporarily won, then lost, the support of the liberal advocacy group Americans for Democratic Action. Moran supporters on the organization's board, who had been absent during a vote to back Rosenberg, successfully pushed for another vote in favor of the congressman.
Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington, said Moran's staying power is less a reflection of him than of his Democratic-leaning district.
"It's the desire of a very liberal district to keep a Democratic congressman in an age when Republicans are in power," he said. "What it comes down to is, a lot of people have a 'Go with the horse you know' kind of mentality."
Staff writer Annie Gowen contributed to this report.