Bruce Shuttleworth, center, with son Bowen,10, gets into a conversation with John Porter, left, and Peter Smeallie as he campaigns May 19 in Alexandria. He is running against U.S. Rep. James P. Moran in the Democratic primary. (Dayna Smith/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

To Navy veteran Bruce Shuttleworth, it’s a mystery why Rep. James P. Moran keeps getting reelected.

In his 20 years in Congress, Moran has had a series of ethical controversies, including good terms on a loan from a lender seeking support for legislation pending before Congress.

“I remember where I was sitting when I read that,” Shuttleworth said of a 2002 Washington Post story. “And I thought, ‘Well, we’re going to have a new congressman.’ I was amazed that did not happen.”

Moran continued to be reelected. And now, a decade later, Shuttleworth is running against him in the June 12 Democratic primary.

On the surface, the plot in Northern Virginia is familiar: Moran is the entrenched incumbent, reelected with relative ease for more than two decades. Shuttleworth is the underdog, a challenger eager to win the party’s nomination but lacking the funds and familiarity to do so.

U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) attends a January 2011 fundraiser for D.C. Central Kitchen and Martha's Table. (Rebecca D'Angelo/For The Washington Post)

With the primary looming, two developments have made this contest a departure from the norm.

The first was the revelation in March that the Campaign for Primary Accountability, an unusual group that seeks to oust incumbents of both parties, planned to target Moran. The group has weighed in in a handful of races this year, boosting challengers by funding television ads against sitting lawmakers.

But the group’s pledge to intervene in Virginia never translated into action — or cash.

“We are not involved in that race any longer,” CPA spokesman Curtis Ellis said last week. “We constantly reevaluate the map and the targets based on the performance of the challenger and other factors. . . . Going forward, we are careful in assigning our resources to those races where challengers understand what they must do to prevail.”

The second twist was that Shuttleworth, a 47-year-old former Navy pilot turned management consultant, almost didn’t qualify for the ballot, under circumstances that remain murky.

In April, Shuttleworth filed a federal lawsuit against state Democratic party officials — including Virginia Democratic Party Chairman Brian Moran, the congressman’s brother— after being told he had not filed enough valid signatures to make the primary contest.

After Shuttleworth sued, party officials quickly reversed course and put him on the ballot. State Democrats strongly deny any wrongdoing, saying they discovered petitions that had not been properly counted. Shuttleworth eventually withdrew the lawsuit and his campaign dubbed the incident “Petitiongate,” claiming it is evidence that the race is rigged in Moran’s favor.

Moran has a mostly liberal voting record, making him an unlikely target for a primary challenge. But Shuttleworth said his motivation goes beyond policy differences.

“I think [Moran] has a big heart on many issues,” Shuttleworth said in a interview. “I think he votes the right way on social values, but he brazenly embraces conflicts of interest, and I think that’s unacceptable.”

In 2002, The Washington Post reported that Moran had gotten favorable terms on a home-refinancing package from MBNA, even as a he backed a bankruptcy reform bill supported by the credit card industry. He also drew scrutiny for taking personal loans in 1999 from a friend who was a drug-company lobbyist and in 2002 from the co-founder of America Online.

Still, Moran, who was not charged with any wrongdoing, barely skipped a beat. In 2004, he fended off a primary challenge from well-funded attorney Andrew Rosenberg, winning 59 to 41 percent, and he has had little difficulty since then. In 2010, Moran was unopposed in the Democratic primary and trounced retired Army Col. Patrick Murray (R), who is running again this year, by 24 points.

“In meeting people outside Metro stations and at the various civic functions . . . I’m receiving a very warm welcome from folks that want a fresh perspective,” Shuttleworth said. “In 12 years of living in Northern Virginia, I have not met many people who enjoy voting for Jim Moran.”

Moran’s campaign scoffed at that notion.

“Voters in the 8th District know Congressman Moran. He fights for the issues they care about, provides strong, progressive representation, and has helped strengthen the region’s economy through his work as a senior member on the Appropriations Committee and as a leader who understands the importance of the federal role in our regional economy,” said Austin Durrer, a spokesman for Moran.

As for the upcoming primary, Durrer said, “We feel great about where the campaign is at this point, but aren’t leaving anything to chance — the pedal’s to the metal through June 12th.”

At the end of March, Moran had more than $400,000 in his campaign account, while Shuttleworth had $31,000. New fundraising reports are due next week, and Shuttleworth said “we’re aggressively getting at it,” though he acknowledged, “We’re going to clearly be outspent.”

Shuttleworth’s campaign has made robocalls to voters in the district, which includes Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church and part of Fairfax County. He plans to use direct mail, but does not have the cash to run the kind of radio and television ad campaign that could really boost his name recognition.

Although both campaigns say they want to hold debates, so far no group has extended an official invitation to the two candidates.

Shuttleworth also has employed an unusual strategy for a Democratic primary candidate — appealing to Republicans. As the liberal blog Blue Virginia reported, Shuttleworth attended a meeting of Falls Church Republicans last month, where he reminded attendees that Virginia has open primaries, so “if you’re not Democratic all you have to do is request a Democratic ballot, and I would be delighted and honored to have your support.”

Shuttleworth is not a stranger to Capitol Hill. He served as a congressional page in high school, and his uncle is former congressman David Bowen (D-Miss.), who spent a decade in the House.

Born in Amsterdam, N.Y., Shuttleworth was raised in Severna Park. He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1987 and attended West Point as part of an exchange program. He served on the aircraft carrier USS America, flying missions over Somalia and Bosnia.

After leaving the Navy in 1995, Shuttleworth got a master’s degree from Harvard Business School and went to work for the Boston Consulting Group, the Tysons Corner-based technology firm MicroStrategy and then the educational software company Blackboard Inc.

Since 2007, Shuttleworth, who lives in Arlington with his wife and twin sons, has worked as a part-time business consultant and served as a caregiver to his parents. His mother and father, nonsmokers, both died of lung cancer, making Shuttleworth especially committed to clean-air and health issues.

But most of all, Shuttleworth keeps coming back to the theme of Moran’s ethics.

“If there is one organization in the world that’s got to have the highest-integrity people,” Shuttleworth said, “it’s Congress.”