After more than two decades in office, Rep. James P. Moran (D-Va.) is retiring at the end of his current term. His decision threw open the June 10 Democratic primary in the 8th District, spurring a field of 10 (!) to vie for his Northern Virginia seat. While Moran, one of the most liberal members of Congress, is neutral in the race, he has some thoughts and even some advice for the candidates, which he shared with us in a recent discussion. Below is a transcript of our conversation, edited for brevity and clarity.
Fix: What matters to the district's voters most as they weigh their 10 choices?
Moran: I think they want to asses how much personal commitment is being offered by each of the candidates. I learned from my colleagues Tom Davis and Frank Wolf that a willingness to be as many places as possible in whatever time is available to listen to the constituents is what they have come to expect in Northern Virginia.
Fix: Did it surprise you that this many candidates decided to run? And who has the upper hand?
Moran: I expected at least that many to run, so I'm not surprised. Frankly, I'm surprised that two or three people that I thought would run chose not to run. I think we have a good field. A number of them are friends, and that's why I am really precluded from endorsing anybody. It just wouldn't be fair. There are clearly several who I think would make excellent representatives. You asked who has a leg up. I don’t think there are any surprises that the ability to raise money is a critical component -- especially in national politics. And the ability to move into the leadership is oftentimes directly correlated with your ability to help your colleagues. Another component is your understanding of the issues. There are a number of candidates who have shown a strong grasp of the issues. In terms of the ability to raise money, there are probably five or six that are competitive. Former lieutenant governor Don Beyer has shown an extraordinary ability to raise money, and it's because he has helped so many other candidates over the years. In terms of the issues, some have impressed me more than others. A third area is work ethic. Work ethic has shown to be extraordinary on the part of a number of them. State Senator Adam Ebbin, for example, has always been a very hard worker, and continues to be. A fourth is likeability. Again, a lot of them pass that test as well. A lot of people don't know Virginia Tech Professor Derek Hyra yet, but he is tremendously likeable. Almost all of them are very impressive people.
Fix: How engaged are young voters in the Arlington area going to be in this election?
Moran: It depends on the outreach efforts of the candidates and what issues come up. Young people, particularly in the Ballston corridor, are sometimes difficult to reach. The best way to reach them is to find them at their place of work or reach them on social media. A number of candidates are doing that. I see Beyer has a good handle on that but a number of others also understand that you need to be exceptionally tech-savvy in a district like this. You also need to understand what moves the economy. You have to show you are willing to work hard in the areas that promote these cutting edge industries or at least provide the platform for them to grow. I'll give you an example. Most Democrats are going to be anti-trade. But in technology-heavy Northern Virginia, for technology companies and others to grow, most of them need to be able to sell overseas. So, one issue that voters may need to watch is candidate positions on trade.
Fix: Does Beyer have a more of challenge reaching out to young people? He last served in office more than 16 years ago.
Moran: I don't want people to get any sense that I am favoring any one candidate over another because I'm not. But, age is a state of mind. I've been able to work effectively with a lot of folks in their 20s, and I'm older than Don. I just don't think that's the issue. I think the issue is: Do you understand how important social media is? Do you understand how important it is for new young companies to be able to grow with the government instead of having to work against the government? Are you willing to get out into our places of work and talk to us? To suggest that young people relate better to people their own age regardless of the issues I think sells them short.
Fix: If you had to give the candidates one piece of advice, what would you tell them?
If you're in a Democratic primary, avoid the temptation to criticize other Democrats, because you're going to need to work with them. I will tell you very honestly that those candidates who resort to denigrating other Democrats for their own short-term political advantage are not going to be ones I am going to want to support. So that's the one thing that I am watching most carefully: Who is working with and supporting the others who are running. I don't want this congressional seat to ever become a platform to denigrate other Democrats.