Is long-time Virginia Democratic Rep. Jim Moran really safe this election cycle?

John Rossomando | Contributor

Democratic Rep. Jim Moran’s 8th Congressional District is considered the second bluest district in Virginia, and the 19-year incumbent has consistently demolished his GOP challengers, but internal polling conducted by his current GOP opponent’s campaign suggests this year could be different.

Republican candidate Col. Patrick Murray’s most recent internal numbers from the last four days show Moran leading with 32.3 percent compared with Murray’s 29.7 percent. 30.5 percent are shown to be undecided.

The Murray campaign’s internal numbers also suggest Moran has high negatives. A Sept. 22 poll conducted by McLaughlin & Associates found Moran’s support at below 50 percent — with only 42 percent of those polled rating him as good or excellent and 41 percent rating him as fair or poor.

“Although he currently leads Patrick Murray on the ballot for U.S. Congress, his favorable rating, job rating and vote share fall short of the thresholds for strong incumbents,” pollster John McLaughlin wrote in a memo to the Murray campaign. “Given voters’ dissatisfaction with Jim Moran’s performance as congressman and the current mood of the electorate, Jim Moran is one Democrat incumbent that could be unseated in November.”

McLaughlin’s memo also suggests that the retired Army colonel, who served tours of duty in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Iraq during his 24 years of service, could defeat Moran if he can improve his name recognition.

But Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, says the campaign’s most recent internal numbers, although reflecting the national tilt toward the GOP, cannot be used to determine the race’s outcome because they do not reflect a true random sample.

“If Murray beat Moran it would be an extraordinary upset — one of the headliners of the night,” Sabato said in an e-mail to The Daily Caller. “The 8th is the second most D district in Virginia (after the majority-black 3rd). Obama won 69 percent there. A party switch is highly unlikely in 2010. That’s my best judgment.”

Moran has amassed many enemies in his two decades in Congress due to his personal conduct and connections.

In 2003, Moran took criticism for blaming the “leadership of the Jewish community” for the war in Iraq. The congressman subsequently apologized for his remarks.

The congressman’s political opponents have also frequently made reference to Moran’s temper, which has gotten him in trouble repeatedly.

In April 2000, The Washington Post reported an 8-year-old child’s family had filed a complaint against the congressman for grabbing him by the neck and cursing at him for looking at Moran’s car in a way that supposedly suggested he was trying to steal it.

Moran has also been involved in numerous scuffles with his ex-wife, members of the clergy, and at least one other member of Congress, according to numerous press reports.

In recent days, the Murray campaign has hit the incumbent hard over comments he made suggesting the retired colonel’s military service did not equal “public service.”

“What [Republicans] do is find candidates, usually stealth candidates, that haven’t been in office, haven’t served or performed in any kind of public service. My opponent is typical, frankly,” Moran told an Arlington County Democratic Committee meeting earlier this month in an exchange captured on video.
Murray told TheDC that Moran’s comment insults America’s veterans and active duty service members, and it would come as a surprise to the families of those buried at Arlington National Cemetery, which lies in the district, that their loved ones did not die in public service to their country.

“To say military service isn’t public service is startling verbage,” Murray said. “For someone who sits on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee to disparage military service is amazing to me.”

Media outlets such as Fox News, The Washington Examiner, The Weekly Standard, and National Review posted stories over the weekend publicizing Moran’s comment, which the congressman has not backed away from.

Moran sought to deflect Murray’s criticism, saying he “commends” his opponent’s military service and has consistently supported the military.

“The point Congressman Moran was making is that Northern Virginia is a region that prides itself on local civic engagement — serving in the PTA, on local boards, working with non-profits to help those less fortunate and also serving in elected office,” Moran’s campaign said in a press release. “Because Murray has virtually no ties to our community — moving here a scant 18 months ago in order to run for Congress — it is difficult to see how he can adequately represent Northern Virginia.”

Murray’s situation closely mirrors that of Pennsylvania’s Democratic U.S. Senate nominee, Rep. Joe Sestak, who successfully ran for Congress in 2006 shortly after retiring as a Navy admiral, despite his having not consistently lived in the district he was elected in since the 1970s.

Murray also hit Moran for stating on his campaign literature that he had been endorsed by veterans groups such as the Disabled Veterans of America and the Military Officer’s Association of America despite the fact he wasn’t, according to The Washington Examiner.

“The congressman has an arrogance of power,” Murray said.

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