Moran in Tough Primary Battle

Posted June 2, 2004 at 6:52pm

Facing the first primary fight of his career, embattled Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) is expected to survive the challenge from attorney Andy Rosenberg when 8th district voters head to the polls Tuesday.

But in what could be perceived as a troubling sign for his campaign, late last month Moran lost the support and services of his longtime pollster, Alan Secrest, who lamented that he had “anguished private rationalizations” long enough for the Congressman’s “increasingly erratic behavior.”

In a letter dated May 25, Secrest cited “offensive remarks” Moran made in a recent internal campaign meeting as the final straw that ended their 20-year relationship.

“People make mistakes; elected officials are, after all, human,” Secrest wrote to Moran. “In your case, though, a critical mass of poor judgment, at best, and maliciously inappropriate characterizations of others has finally been reached, at least for me and my staff.”

Secrest first polled for Moran in 1984, when he was elected mayor of Alexandria. He also polled for Moran in his first Congressional race, when he unseated then-Rep. Stan Parris (R) in 1990.

Dan Lucas, Moran’s campaign manager, likened the parting to a “bad divorce” but maintained that the Congressman still respects Secrest and his work.

Ultimately, as Moran decided to focus on his ground campaign leading up to the primary, Lucas said he changed course and decided he didn’t need Secrest anymore, despite having signed a contract for his services. The campaign will likely hire a new pollster before the general election.

“The situation has changed and Jim has decided to go another way,” Lucas said. “It’s just not a good fit anymore.

Secrest’s departure from Moran’s campaign will likely mean little to the voters, however.

Faced with their first real alternative to Moran, voters in Northern Virginia’s heavily Democratic suburban 8th district will go to the polls Tuesday to register whether they are fed up enough with his controversial missteps to retire the seven-term lawmaker.

Moran argues that he uses the same combative style that sometimes gets him in trouble to fight for his constituents.

But Rosenberg, maintains that Moran’s constituents deserve better and that they are tired of being embarrassed by their Congressman’s antics.

In the end, it is estimated that less than 20 percent of 8th district voters could ultimately decide who can better represent them. The 8th district Democratic primary is the only race on tap in the district Tuesday.

“You’re either coming out there for Moran or against him,” said Rosenberg campaign manager Rick Ally.

Rosenberg, 36, has been conducting a widespread grassroots campaign, canvassing neighborhoods and shaking hands at Metro stations. Ally says that internal data collected by the campaign indicates Moran is weak and that voters are fed up and ready for a change.

“There is clearly an anybody but Moran feeling in the district,” Alley said.

Rosenberg, touting himself as the “Democratic alternative” to Moran, has taken aim at Moran’s ethical and political controversies in a series of recent direct mail pieces.

“Had it up to here with stories about Jim Moran?” one blares, before highlighting newspaper headlines unflattering to Moran.

While Moran’s Congressional career has been dotted with controversial behavior — including almost coming to blows with another Member off the House floor and a physical altercation with an 8-year-old boy — it was his comments on the eve of the Iraq war in March 2003 that precipitated the primary challenge.

At the time Moran said at a anti-war forum that Jewish influence was pushing the U.S. toward war with Iraq. He later apologized for the remarks, which he said were taken out of context, but was still forced to relinquish a minor leadership post in the Democratic Caucus.

In a new mail piece, Rosenberg cites the incident as an example of Moran’s attempt to “divide America.”

“Instead of taking to the House floor to try to stop George Bush from going to war, Jim Moran publicly blames American Jews for the impending war,” the mailer reads.

Moran backers argue that voters who know the Congressman are satisfied with his overall track record and his ability to deliver for the district. Moran is a senior member of the Appropriations Committee.

“People know him,” said a source close to Moran. “They know the good, the bad, the ugly. People got to know him as mayor. They know what he’s all about. Anybody who knows Jim Moran knows that he may do things that if he had thought twice about he would have done it differently, but he’s never done it to make himself a little more rich.”

Moran’s campaign is also touting the ground operation they have put together and the support they are getting in the final weeks of the campaign.

Moran was expected to be endorsed by Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) Wednesday night at a fundraiser. This morning, former Vermont Governor and one-time Democratic presidential frontrunner Howard Dean is scheduled to appear at a breakfast fundraiser for Moran.

A letter from Alexandria Mayor William Euille (D), the city’s vice mayor and three city council members supporting Moran is expected to hit 8th district mailboxes this week.

The role of the Kennedy clan has played prominently in the race. Rosenberg is a former aide to Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy (D), who is remaining neutral in the race, and his campaign has close ties to the Kennedy organization.

Assuming Moran wins on Tuesday he will have more to celebrate four days later. The Congressman, whose stormy second marriage was also the topic of headlines several years ago, is due to be married a third time.