What makes retired Army colonel and Iraq war veteran Patrick Murray believe he can win over the voters of Virginia’s Eighth Congressional District? After all, these are the same voters who have sent incumbent Democrat Jim Moran to Congress ten times before.
“After twenty years, people are tired with government waste and spending,” Murray, the Republican candidate, told THE WEEKLY STANDARD at a fundraiser in Alexandria last night. “They’re tired of career politicians.”
During his speech, Murray called Moran the "worst congressman."
There is much for conservatives to dislike about Moran. For one, the liberal congressman has been criticized as a less-than-scrupulous earmark exploiter by groups like Taxpayers for Common Sense, Judicial Watch, and Citizens Against Government Waste, which previously named him as one of their “Porkers of the Month.”
Moran also has ties to corrupt former lobbyist Paul Magliocchetti, who pled guilty last Friday to charges he illegally used campaign money to influence lawmakers. Magliocchetti’s PMA Group has been Moran’s top contributor throughout his congressional career, giving him over $170,000 since 1989. According to the Associated Press, Moran and two other Democratic congressmen “directed $137 million in defense contracts to Magliocchetti's clients, typically through earmarks” in 2007 and 2008 alone.
But if Murray wants to beat Moran, he’ll have to work hard, and perhaps hope for a little luck.
The Eighth Congressional District encompasses some of Northern Virginia’s suburbs, including Arlington County, Alexandria, and parts of Fairfax County. These communities just outside Washington, D.C. are some of the most affluent, most educated, and most liberal in the country. Moran hasn’t faced a serious contender since his first reelection race in 1992, when he still won by nearly 15 points.
But the Murray campaign has a bit of optimism after an internal poll of 400 likely voters showed a closer race than Moran has experienced any time recently. Moran is 13 points ahead of Murray, but the incumbent's support is at only 45 percent, with 23 percent of voters still undecided. The numbers get better for Murray when pared down to voters who have heard of both candidates, and among those asked who have an opinion of both, Murray actually leads Moran by a wide margin.
Murray supporters believe that this is the year where voters have had enough. In the year of the Tea Party and its message of smaller government, this district in D.C.’s backyard may not be so keen on rolling back federal spending.
But Jim Moran’s personal reputation may be toxic enough to energize voters to come out against him.
“He doesn’t work and play well with pretty much anybody,” Murray said. That’s certainly true of the Democrat’s interaction with political adversaries. Moran called the 2009 Republican candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general the “Taliban ticket.” In 2000, he told Republican colleague Rep. Dan Burton, “I’ll break your nose” during a congressional hearing. And in 1995, Moran got into a shoving match with Republican Rep. Duke Cunningham on the House floor, a fight for which both men later apologized.
Moran has also infuriated Jewish voters for his comments on the influence of the supposed 'Jewish lobby' in the lead up to the Iraq war. “If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this,” he told a local paper in 2003. Nancy Pelosi, who was then minority leader, stripped Moran of his leadership position for that statement.
Similar comments in 2007, in which Moran falsely criticized the non-partisan American Israel Public Affairs Committee for supporting the war, earned the ire of some of his Democratic colleagues. Sixteen Jewish Democrats in the House signed an open letter to Moran calling on him to retract those statements. House majority leader Steny Hoyer also asked for a retraction.
One prominent Republican guest last night at the fundraiser, former Minnesota senator Norm Coleman, called Moran’s views on Israel and the Jewish community “offensive.” “Democrats should be offended by Jim Moran,” Coleman said during last night's event. “His values are not their values.”
The district deserves “quality, principled, strong leadership” in its representative, Coleman said as he made his case for Murray. And he likened the task of electing Patrick Murray to what the 1980 U.S. national hockey team faced when it played the “unbeatable” Soviet team.
Former U.N. ambassador John Bolton, who also spoke at last night's event, went after Moran personally, calling the congressman “the very face of arrogance in power.”
But Bolton also hit a positive note: “There are no safe incumbents ... [Moran] was the very candidate elections were made for, so he can be defeated.”