Friday, March 26, 2004

Three top advisers to Sen. John Kerry are helping to unseat Rep. James P. Moran in an unusual effort to topple the seven-term fellow Democrat from Northern Virginia, who is routinely re-elected by wide margins.

The Kerry workers join numerous Democratic Party leaders in supporting Alexandria lawyer Andrew Rosenberg’s effort to oust Mr. Moran in the June primary.

Among Mr. Rosenberg’s high-powered backers are Robert M. Shrum, Steven A. Elmendorf and Steven Grossman, all top advisers to Mr. Kerry. Mr. Shrum, a top Kerry media consultant, lists Mr. Rosenberg as a client, while Mr. Grossman and Mr. Elmendorf, both top Kerry campaign officials, have made financial contributions to Mr. Rosenberg.

The Kerry campaign said it takes no official position in this or any other local primary. “We’re focused on winning the White House and changing America,” a campaign official said.

The most recent complaint about Mr. Moran among many Democrats concerns a remark he made last year blaming Jewish Americans for the war in Iraq.

“If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this,” he said at a gathering of antiwar activists in Reston a year ago. “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 remark brought a stinging rebuke from reliable Democratic organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, which called the comment “pure, unadulterated anti-Semitism.”

“That’s only the latest in a string of inappropriate statements and actions the congressman has made,” Mr. Rosenberg said yesterday. “The people of Northern Virginia are aware of his background. They know, as a member of Congress, he has repeatedly displayed bad judgment and that has undercut his effectiveness.”

Past scandals involving Mr. Moran include a questionable loan by a bank that had pending legislation before Congress. He also has a penchant for fistfights, including a famous 1995 tussle on the floor of the House with Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, California Republican.

After his remark blaming Jews for the war, Mr. Moran was stripped of his post as regional whip for members of Mid-Atlantic states and asked by several Democratic House members not to run for re-election in the fall.

“I don’t think Moran should take this challenge lightly at all,” said Mark Rozell, professor of politics at Catholic University. “This is the first time when the disgruntlement takes place more from within the party than outside it.”

Indeed, a recent poll released by Mr. Rosenberg suggests some dissatisfaction among Mr. Moran’s base, which in the past has re-elected him with 60 percent of the vote.

The poll, conducted by Lazarus Strategic Services for Mr. Rosenberg’s campaign, found 45 percent of Democrats in Mr. Moran’s district approved of his job performance.

Some have compared the situation in Northern Virginia to the effort among Democrats to oust party member Rep. Chris Bell earlier this month in Texas.

In that case, Mr. Bell, who is white, found himself running for re-election in a newly drawn district with a large minority population.

Reps. Maxine Waters of California, Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas and Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois, all black Democrats, campaigned on behalf of a black challenger, who beat Mr. Bell in the primary. It caused bad blood among some Democrats, who thought party members should not waste political capital on a fellow Democrat.

“There are going to be those party faithful who stick with the incumbent no matter what,” Mr. Rozell said. “They will stick with him despite his well-known shortcomings.”

But Mr. Rosenberg drew a distinction between the cases of Mr. Bell and Mr. Moran.

“It’s an entirely different situation,” he said. “The difference here is we have a member of Congress who has been asked to step down. He is not serving with distinction and character.”

Asked how he responds to fellow Democrats who accuse him of attacking one of their own, Mr. Rosenberg says voters are “desperate for an alternative.”

“There’s a tremendous appetite for change in Northern Virginia,” he said. “We want to make sure that choice is offered by another Democrat.”

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