FALLS CHURCH, Va. – Rep. Jim Moran (search) has ticked off plenty of people in his long political career — he's been the target of an ethics investigation and once got into a shoving match with a fellow congressman.
But it's his remarks last year about Jewish support for the Iraq war that have led to the most serious challenge he has faced in 14 years in Congress.
His opponent in Tuesday's primary — 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 John Kerry (search) .
While Rosenberg is considered a long shot, Moran acknowledges he's worried a coalition of people he has angered over a 25-year political career could vote to oust him in a primary with low turnout.
The contest in the Washington, D.C., suburbs of northern Virginia is being held Tuesday along with primaries in six other states — Iowa, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, North Dakota and South Carolina.
Rosenberg's challenge was prompted to by comments Moran made in the weeks leading up to the invasion of Iraq.
Said Moran: "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."
Many considered the remarks anti-Semitic, and the allegations received a boost this past week when Moran's longtime pollster, Alan Secrest, said he quit over anti-Semitic comments Moran made at a private campaign meeting.
Secrest would not repeat Moran's exact words, but characterized the slur as a "dismissive characterization of a group of Democrats ... belittling them and characterizing them by their religion as a basis for their approach."
Moran, 59, has denied making any anti-Semitic comments, and apologized for his earlier remarks, saying they were misunderstood and taken out of context.
House Democrats stripped Moran of his leadership position following his 2003 comments, and several regionally prominent Democrats lined up to run against him, although all but Rosenberg eventually dropped out of the race.
Moran said he's 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," he said.
The 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 in an interview.
Rosenberg, a former aide to Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., said the Iraq comments were just the latest in a long line of missteps by Moran.
Among them: In 1999 Moran accepted a $25,000 loan from a friend and pharmaceutical lobbyist, and later 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 and exonerated Moran.
In 1998, 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.
Moran said he received no special treatment, and said the 10.5 percent interest rate charged by MBNA was far from favorable.
In a 1995 dispute, Moran shoved Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., off the House floor and through the chamber's doors.
"He's notoriously made headlines for all the wrong reasons," Rosenberg said. "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."
Rosenberg had raised more than $377,000 through May 19. Moran, who got 60 percent of the vote in his 2002 election, has raised more than $1 million.
Rosenberg could be helped by the district's large population of people in public service jobs who pay close attention to government and demand clean politics, said Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at Mary Washington College.
"The good government concerns will be taken seriously by Moran's constituents," 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."