Knowing the 8th Congressional District tends to vote overwhelmingly Democratic, neither Tom O'Donoghue, 41, or Mark Ellmore, 47, wants to be seen as a hardline Republican.
"I don't have an elephant tattooed on my back end," O'Donoghue said.
"I'm reaching out to labor organizations and African-Americans," Ellmore said. "I'm not interested in playing politics, I'm only interested in being the best I can be and spreading my message of hope and unity."
The two candidates, both Alexandria residents, are vying for the GOP nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D) in the fall. But first they will face each other in the June 13primary election for the 8th District, which includes Arlington, Alexandria and Reston.
<b>O'DONOGHUE</b>, an Iraq War veteran, and Ellmore, a mortgage lender, appear to agree on political issues more often than not. They both believe Moran, an eight-term incumbent, has been in office too long and that congressmen should be subjected to term limits.
"Jim Moran has lost his 'serve the people' and traded it for 'serve myself,'" Ellmore said. "He's addicted to the job. I don't think anyone should be in Congress for more than four or five terms."
The two Republicans also agree that the best way to deal with the district's loss of 20,000 jobs under the Department of Defense's base realignment plans is to lure other federal agencies to the soon-to-be-vacated buildings.
"It's prime real estate," O'Donoghue said. "It's located close to the Capitol and it's in an area with an educated workforce. I think we could attract other industries and government agencies into that space."
Furthermore, they agree that more should be done about illegal immigration, as they both see the issue as a national security and economic challenge. Security must be tightened along the country's southern border, they said, with fences and strengthened patrols by immigration enforcement agents.
"We absolutely need to securitize our borders," Ellmore said. "Not everybody that comes in is a bad guy, but unfortunately those guys are coming across with no checks and balances whatsoever. I'm not hatin', I'm just saying there's rules in place. You just got to have respect for the laws of America."
O'Donoghue and Ellmore also share similar views on the Iraq War. Neither wants to pull out American troops until the country and its warring factions are stable.
"We're probably the only chance that country has," O'Donoghue said. "We can't be there indefinitely, but we need to stay as long as there's hope of avoiding a civil war and ensuring stability. We're their last, best hope."
Both candidates see the war on a personal level, as O'Donoghue served in Baghdad with a U.S. Army civil affairs unit and Ellmore's son, Richard, is a guided weapons technicians with the U.S. Air Force.
<b>WHILE THEY MIGHT</b> have similar political beliefs, the two Republicans have different backgrounds. Apart from his military service in Iraq, Afghanistan and Germany, O'Donoghue holds advanced degrees from Georgetown and Yale universities. Ellmore, on the other hand, proudly proclaims his lack of academic credentials. In the back of his book for Christian businesspeople, "You've Got to Have It to Succeed," he boasts he was ranked 399 out of 425 in Hayfield Secondary School's class of 1976. He went on to take classes at Northern Virginia Community College and George Mason University, where he accumulated two credit hours. At the time, he was also the lead singer in a rock band called "Savage."
O'Donoghue likens his political philosophy to that of Ronald Reagan. He believes in leaving the markets free of government intervention, except in cases of strategic national interest. For example, he said, the government should play a role in the energy business, helping to find ways to break the United States of its dependence on foreign oil.
O'Donoghue sees running for Congress as an extension of his military service to his country. "What I've done and what I've seen has given me the courage to step forward into the fray," he said.
Ellmore is a deeply religious evangelical Christian. A member of McLean Bible Church, Ellmore founded in the late 1990s "Know the Truth," a Christian outreach organization that operates in Kenya, Uganda and Brazil. For the past seven years, he has sponsored a 14-year-old Ugandan girl through Compassion International, a Christian organization that helps children in poverty.
When he personalizes copies of his book, he writes "God Bless" and "John 14:6," a Bible passage that reads: "Jesus said to him, 'I am the way and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, but by Me.'"
"My faith defines where my heart is," Ellmore said. "There's good that you can see coming from me, the respect, the passion. You just realize the importance of trying to reach out and love people — that's what I get from my faith and that's why I want to serve as a congressman."
Though Ellmore has not seen military service, he has experienced his share of danger. While working as a bank teller, he survived two armed robberies, according to his book.
<b>MARK ROZELL</b>, a politics professor at George Mason University, said O'Donoghue and Ellmore will probably face a tough time knocking off a well-funded and longtime incumbent like Moran.
"I think Jim Moran's about as safe as an incumbent can be," Rozell said.
Moran faced a tough primary challenge in 2004, when Andy Rosenberg garnered 41.5 percent of the vote.
As of March 31, Moran had $362,365 on hand in his campaign war chest. O'Donoghue reported $4,170 on hand and Ellmore has not yet reported any campaign contributions, according to the Federal Election Commission.