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Moran, O’Donoghue Face Off in Televised Debate

War in Iraq and immigration reform play key roles in debate.

In the contest for Virginia’s 8th Congressional District, Rep. James P. Moran (D) and his Republican challenger Tom O’Donoghue differed Monday on a diverse set of issues ranging from the war in Iraq to the question of making Reston a town.

In a televised debate, Moran lambasted the Republican-controlled Congress, calling it President Bush’s rubber stamp. “We need a government that is honest, that is competent and that cares, and we’ve had none of those,” said Moran, the former mayor of Alexandria who is seeking his ninth term in Congress.

Moran, who opposes the war in Iraq, said the United States was led into war under false pretenses. “This is wrong not to level with the American people,” said Moran, who called the Republican leadership “embarrassing.”

O’Donoghue, a decorated veteran who served tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, said he supports pulling out troops. A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, O’Donoghue was an Army reservist who volunteered to serve after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“I will be the first to admit that mistakes have been made at all levels,” said the Alexandria resident, of the war in Iraq. “I believe we need to return the troops, but we need to do it in a way that doesn’t force us to return to a bloodier Middle East.”

THE TWO CANDIDATES agreed Monday that the United States needs immigration reform, but differed on how best to go about it.

O’Donoghue, who has made stricter controls on illegal immigration one of his central campaign planks, supports the creation of a fence along the southern U.S. border to prevent “millions and millions of people from walking into this country.”

“It’s hurting schools, law enforcement and it’s putting strains on our healthcare system,” said O’Donoghue.

Moran accused the GOP-controlled Congress of political gamesmanship on the issue, adding that O’Donoghue supported the bill the House proposed earlier this year.

“I don’t support the House bill,” said Moran. “I don’t think we should deport 12 million men, women and children that are in this country. I don’t think you should make it a felony to help people in need. I do think there needs to be a path to citizenship.”

WHEN THE LOCAL ISSUE whether or not Reston should be a town came up, O’Donoghue said he’d have to give it more thought.

“It sounds far removed from a federal decision,” he said.

Moran said it would be easier to direct money to the planned community. “As a town, it would probably make it easier for me,” said Moran. “It’s easier to earmark money for a community that doesn’t have to go through Fairfax County.”

But Moran added that he wasn’t sure if incorporation was in Reston’s long-term best interests. “Ultimately, the citizens of Reston have to make that decision,” he said.

ON EDUCATION, Moran said he supported longer school days and a year-round school year. “But if you do that, you have to pay teachers a high, professional salary,” said Moran.

O’Donoghue called the federal No Child Left Behind law a “good start,” arguing that it ensures accountability. However, he added that the law should focus less on punishment and more on rewards.

Moran countered saying that the bi-partisan bill was slipped through Congress with a presidential promise to provide adequate funding.

“The very next budget, we were snookered,” said Moran. He explained that education funding was cut $9 billion to pay for tax cuts that mostly benefited the wealthy.

TWO YEARS AGO, after a string of political gaffes, Moran trudged through a bruising primary campaign against lobbyist Andrew M. Rosenberg before defeating GOP challenger, Lisa Marie Cheney.

O’Donoghue, who has both a law degree and a master’s in business administration, admitted that campaigning has been difficult in the largely Democratic district, which includes Alexandria, Arlington County, Falls Church and Reston.

“I’m a first-time candidate and I’m a Republican — I admit it,” said O’Donoghue, adding that voters have sometimes ignored his message because of the “scarlet ‘R’” he wears.

“But we’re dealing with big issues, and I’m an independent thinker,” said O’Donoghue. “I have real-world experience.”

The candidates debated for an hour and a half at Comcast Studios in Reston as part of the local show, Reston Impact. It was broadcast live on Comcast, channel 28.

ARLINGTON QUALITY CONTROL expert James T. Hurysz, the independent candidate who was not invited to participate in the debate, showed up in protest. “I’m on the ballot and I get along with everybody on the campaign trail. I don’t know what the problem is,” he said.

Hurysz participated in the debate during the election cycle in 2004, when he first ran as an alternative for voters dissatisfied with Moran.