- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 6, 2004

During a long political career, Democratic Rep. James P. Moran of Virginia has ticked off plenty of people, but it was his remarks last year about Jewish support for the war in Iraq that have led to the most serious challenge he has faced in 14 years in Congress.

The comments that some perceived as anti-Semitic are the latest in a history of words and deeds by the fiery Mr. Moran — including a shoving match with a fellow congressman and questionable sponsorship of bills that led to an ethics investigation.

His opponent, former Capitol Hill staffer and lobbyist Andrew Rosenberg, has raised more money than nearly any other primary challenger in the country and has attracted high-level Democratic consultants Robert Shrum and Tad Devine, who also work for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

In addition to the 8th District contest in Virginia, primaries are being held tomorrow in Iowa, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, North Dakota and South Carolina.

Although Mr. Rosenberg remains a long shot, even Mr. Moran admits he is worried that, in a primary with expected low turnout, a coalition of those he has angered in a 25-year political career could vote to oust him.

What prompted the primary challenge were Mr. Moran’s comments at a March 3, 2003, forum in the weeks leading up to the invasion of Iraq. Mr. Moran said: “If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq we would not be doing this. The leaders of the Jewish community are influential enough that they could change the direction of where this is going and I think they should.”

The accusations that his remarks were anti-Semitic received a boost last week when his longtime pollster, Alan Secrest, said he quit the campaign in response to anti-Semitic comments by Mr. Moran at a private campaign meeting. Mr. Secrest did not specify the remarks. Mr. Moran said Mr. Secrest was lying and that he was upset that the congressman did not want to pay for expensive polling.

Mr. Moran has apologized for the 2003 comments but said that they were misunderstood and taken out of context.

House Democrats stripped Mr. Moran of his leadership position after the comments, and several regionally prominent Democrats lined up to run against him.

Eventually, though, all Democrats but Mr. Rosenberg dropped out of the race. Mr. Rosenberg, a former aide to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, said that although the Iraq comments prompted him to enter the race, they were just the latest in a long line of missteps by Mr. Moran.

Among them: In 1999, Mr. Moran accepted a $25,000 loan from a friend and pharmaceutical lobbyist, and later the congressman co-sponsored a bill to extend the patent on the allergy drug Claritin, which would have benefited the lobbyist’s client, Schering-Plough. The House ethics committee investigated the matter and exonerated Mr. Moran.

In 1998, Mr. Moran received a nearly $450,000 home refinancing loan from MBNA Corp., even though he was behind in payments on $30,000 in credit card debt to MBNA. Shortly after closing the loan, he signed on as a sponsor of bankruptcy reform legislation that stood to benefit the company.

Mr. Moran said he received no special treatment and that the 10.5 percent interest rate charged by MBNA was far from favorable, despite his poor credit rating at the time.

In a 1995 dispute with Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, Mr. Moran shoved the California Republican off the House floor and through the chamber’s doors.

Mr. Rosenberg said: “He’s notoriously made headlines for all the wrong reasons. He likes to say it’s because he speaks his mind. But he has a temper that seems to know no bounds, and he has made statements that are inappropriate and dangerous.”

Mr. Moran, a white-haired, burly former boxer, said he will try to avoid uttering the wrong sound bites but will not change the straight-shooting manner he has carried with him from his Boston childhood.

“If I was to lose my passion, I’d get out of politics,” he said.

Mr. Moran said he is frustrated that his vote against the war has received less attention than his comments about the war. “It’s an easy stance now that the war has gone bad, but I wasn’t following the political winds.”

Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at Mary Washington College, said Mr. Rosenberg’s fund raising shows that he is a legitimate candidate. The challenger has raised more than $377,000 through May 19 and has run radio ads and sent mailings. Mr. Moran has raised more than $1 million.

Mr. Rosenberg could be helped by the district’s large population of government workers and others in public service jobs who pay close attention to government and demand clean politics, Mr. Farnsworth said.

“The good-government concerns will be taken seriously,” he said. “Rosenberg is not a big name, which makes it difficult, but Jim Moran has done about as much as Jim Moran can to make this a competitive election.”

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