By Melissa Quinn
U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8) had no trouble brushing off Republican Patrick Murray in 2010, but the former military man believes the second time is the charm.
Murray first appeared on the political scene two years ago, fresh from retiring from the Army after 24 years in uniform. Despite running a dogged campaign, local voters sided overwhelmingly with the longtime incumbent.
But it wasn’t long before Murray launched another bid for the congressional seat.
“In 2010, I had just retired from the Army and I did that to run for Congress,” Murray recalled. “This feels like a duty to me, and there isn’t a statute of limitations with the oath you take in the Constitution.”
It’s still an uphill battle for the Republican challenger — 63 percent of Alexandrians voted for Moran compared to just 35 percent for Murray in the last go-around. Murray and his campaign staff have made substantial changes, hoping to pull out a win in a Democratic-leaning region.
They’ve employed the usual tactics, cold-calling potential voters, hosting phone banks, knocking on doors and meeting residents at various Metro stations. But Murray, running on a largely traditional Republican platform, also has made focusing on the neighborhoods newly added to the district as a result of gerrymandering a priority.
In 2010, Murray concentrated on meeting with as many voters — no matter their political affiliation — as possible. This time, Murray is focusing on Independents and occasional voters, residents who only cast ballots in a general election. Murray’s first shot at the congressional seat was during a mid-term election, which traditionally sees decreased voter turnout.
“I’m a distinct underdog. Any Republican running here is,” Murray said. “I’m more focused on targeting and identifying voters.”
Murray’s most significant shift — and the change he believes will convince Alexandrians to cast their ballot for him — is his focus on less partisanship and more time with constituents.
He’s made the idea his campaign centerpiece, attacking what he describes as his rival’s hyperpartisan record in Washington.
“In a high tide, all [boats] will rise,” Murray said. “People are fed up with the hyperpartisanship on both sides … and that message really resonates. … If you think Democrats and Republicans working together is difficult, try Sunnis and Shiites … that’s what I’ve done and I’m good at it.”
By contrast, the 11-term congressman’s campaign has downplayed Murray’s criticisms. Moran’s camp is focused on the former mayor’s legislative victories, such as fighting against animal cruelty, environmental regulations and his work on health care reform.
Locally, Moran is known for playing a pivotal role in capping parking at Washington Headquarters Services in the West End as well as aiding city officials and residents in their fight to close the GenOn plant in north Old Town.
“We haven’t paid much attention to our opponent’s campaign,” said Anne Hughes, spokeswoman for Moran. “Mr. Murray has been fast and loose with negative and misleading attacks, the hallmark of a campaign going nowhere fast. It’s reminiscent of his last run in 2010, nothing new and not much of substance.”
But Murray’s campaign may have received a boost last week when a controversial conservative group released a video of Moran’s son — and campaign field director — Patrick Moran apparently discussing how to commit voter fraud. The video, shot by an undercover member of activist James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas, quickly made national headlines.
Moran’s camp called it “an error of judgment” in a short statement released after the video went viral.
The younger Moran has since resigned, though Arlington authorities have launched an investigation and state Board of Elections officials have called on Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to look into the incident.
“The story speaks for itself,” Murray said. “The integrity of our elections is paramount. I think most people are going to want to have someone in office who isn’t going to pursue voter fraud. Most people will look at this and not vote for Jim Moran.”
Geoff Skelley, director of communications for the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, disagrees with Murray’s assessment.
“I guess it’s possible that a few people may be turned off voting for Moran because of what happened, but I can’t imagine it making any significant difference,” he said.
In an area like Northern Virginia, Skelley believes a “D” next to a candidate’s name could outweigh the damage done by the video.
“Most voters deplore the idea of voter fraud, but it’s not something that determines your ideology,” Skelley said. “If every undecided voter decided to vote for Moran’s opponent, I think Moran would still win because the region is so Democratic.”