Washington Kansas Rep. Dennis Moore is an island of Democratic blue in a sea of red state Republicans.
The lone Democrat in the state's congressional delegation long has been targeted by Republicans who say he's not conservative enough for his district in the Kansas suburbs of Kansas City, Mo. But Moore says attitudes are changing in the 3rd Congressional District, which includes eastern Lawrence.
"Some people think that the trend has changed," Moore, 60, said in an interview this week. "I tell people 80 percent of what we deal with up here should not be about Republicans or Democrats."
After years of facing well-funded Republican opponents, the four-term congressman is on more solid ground this election cycle. GOP nominee Chuck Ahner, a West Point graduate and loan company executive from Overland Park, has not received financial backing from the National Republican Congressional Committee, which is trying to hold onto seats across the country.
"I feel like we're in a strong position, but we take every opponent seriously," Moore said of the race.
Seeking common ground
Ahner, 40, campaigned in the primary saying he wanted to heal the historical divisions between Republicans living in the district. So far, Ahner is staying away from hot-button social conservative issues like abortion and embryonic stem cell research - he opposes both - to focus on economic and national security issues.
"We have a district here that's highly Republican but also tends to be highly divided in the Republican Party," he said. "After the last election, a couple of my friends told me I should run for the seat because of my background, my personality - I get along with pretty much everybody."
U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore, a Democrat who represents the 3rd District, will answer readers' questions during an online chat at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at www.ljworld.com.
Ahner long has been active in the Kansas GOP, but this is his first bid for federal office. He ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Blue Valley school board in 2005.
Perhaps the biggest lift to Ahner's campaign was getting the endorsement last year of former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, who now serves as his honorary campaign chairman. Ahner said Dole has offered campaign advice, encouraged prominent Republicans to back him and plans to travel to the district this month to appear at fundraising events.
But Ahner is way behind Moore in the crucial money race. Moore had more than $540,000 in the bank while Ahner had around $16,000 cash on hand as of mid-July, according to Federal Election Commission reports.
"It's not all about money," Ahner said. "In the very heavily Republican district that I live in, it's about a healthy dose of respect, a lot of hard work and a focus on the issues."
Moore has held on to the seat since he won it in 1998 by appealing to moderate Republicans and independent voters. In 2004, he was re-elected by 11 percentage points over conservative Republican Kris Kobach, his widest margin of victory yet.
Rep. Dennis Moore
Age: 60. Born Nov. 8, 1945, in Anthony. Hometown: Lenexa. Political party: Democrat. Experience: assistant attorney general, 1971-73; district attorney, Johnson County, 1976-88; U.S. House, 1998-present. Education: B.A., Kansas University, 1967; J.D., Washburn University, 1970. Family: wife, Stephene; three children, four stepchildren.
'Soft' on security?
A member of the Blue Dog Coalition - a moderate Democrats' group - Moore voted with Republicans in favor of the Central American Free Trade Agreement despite opposition from labor groups.
Ahner has challenged Moore's conservative credentials, calling him "soft" on national security. Moore recently voted in favor of President Bush's legislation outlining the treatment of terror-war detainees, but against a bill to grant legal status to President Bush's warrantless wiretapping program.
"He's on both sides of the issue at the same time," Ahner said.
Moore defended his vote against Bush's electronic surveillance plan, citing concerns about infringing on fundamental rights and arguing that current law makes it easy for officials to obtain warrants to tap phones.
"What I don't want to ever see us do is give up the constitutional rights and liberties that we have," Moore said.
Moore was endorsed this week by the Kansas City, Mo.-based Veterans of Foreign Wars Political Action Committee, which could be a blow to Ahner. The group cited Moore's voting record on defense issues and a bill he sponsored to increase the military death gratuity from $12,420 to $100,000, later passed as part of larger spending legislation.
Age: 40. Born May 19, 1966, in Anthony. Hometown: Overland Park. Political party: Republican. Experience: Senior vice president and chief technology officer at PNC Bank in Overland Park. Education: B.S., U.S. Military Academy at West Point; MBA, Boston University. Family: wife, Jennifer; four children.
Ahner has proposed a tough lobbying reform package that would ban all gifts from lobbyists, prohibit all privately funded travel, place an eight-year ban on former members from lobbying Congress and require full transparency for earmarks - special projects that members slip into legislation to help a specific company or project in their district.
Moore last week proposed legislation of his own to make earmarks more transparent, but has opposed a ban on privately funded travel, saying the trips are valuable.
On Iraq, Moore said he does not want to set a public date of withdrawal that could tip off insurgents, but he advocates a private conversation within the government about a general time frame for withdrawal.
"We've saved the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein, but we can't save the Iraqi people from the Iraqi people if they're not willing to put aside more than a century of religious and political differences and come together," Moore said.
Ahner says the United States cannot pull out of Iraq while the country remains in chaos.
The candidates have agreed to take part in two debates this month: one Tuesday and another Oct. 17.