Va. Republicans aim to take 4 Democrats' congressional seats

By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Newly energized by last month's landslide victories in state elections, Virginia Republicans are laying the groundwork to mount aggressive challenges against four Democratic congressmen next year.

Republican leaders think that they can reclaim at least two of the three seats they lost last year, when President Obama became the first Democrat in 44 years to win Virginia. They also think that the political climate has changed so decisively that they can unseat U.S. Rep. Rick C. Boucher, a 28-year incumbent from the far southwestern part of the state, where antipathy toward Obama and national Democratic policies run strong. And they are planning a well-financed challenge to Gerald E. Connolly of the Washington suburbs, where victory is possible although more difficult, they say.

"We have several seats we think we can retake here -- possibly more seats than any other state," state GOP chairman Pat Mullins said.

Few states will be more competitive in next year's congressional midterm elections than Virginia, where the economy, mistrust of such federal policies as health-care reform and Republican hunger after last month's wins have dramatically altered the political atmosphere. Republican Robert F. McDonnell won the governor's race last month by 18 percentage points, gaining the vote of every region in the state, including moderate Northern Virginia. Republicans also claimed the two other top statewide offices and picked up six seats in the House of Delegates.

With all seats in the U.S. House and one-third of the Senate up for election next year, most political experts expect Republicans to make gains in the midterms. How the races play out in Virginia will serve as a national barometer: If Democrats can hang onto at least two of the targeted seats, they'll have a good chance at holding onto their majority in the House, but if three or more are in jeopardy, Republicans could reclaim the chamber.

"It's as competitive as any state," said Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, who as chairman of the Democratic National Committee will focus heavily next year on retaining control of the House. "That makes it worth watching."

In Virginia, the four Democrats are vulnerable in different ways. They represent all aspects of the state: affluent and urban Northern Virginia, struggling Southside and southwest, and military-rich Hampton Roads.

Perhaps most at risk are a pair of 35-year-old Democrats elected in Republican districts with help from an enormous surge in young and African American Obama voters, who will be difficult to draw out next year. In last month's governor's race, Democrat R. Creigh Deeds counted on Obama voters to lift him to victory, but broad support never materialized.

Tom Perriello won by just 727 votes in the sprawling 5th District, which encompasses Charlottesville, a left-leaning college town, as well as an economically devastated swath of southern and central Virginia.

Glenn C. Nye won more resoundingly in the suburban 2nd District, which is dominated by Virginia Beach and boasts one of the largest concentrations of military families in the nation.

"Last year when they ran, there was a very popular presidential candidate running who carried Virginia by a big margin," said Mullins, the GOP chairman. "Nye and Perriello won on his coattails. This year, there aren't going to be any coattails. They're going to have to win one-on-one against our candidates. And they're going to have to stand on their records. This year is going to be a very different election."

Perriello said there is a difference between being targeted and being vulnerable, and he said his support for health-care and energy reform are not as out of touch with his constituents as his opponents say. But even he seemed to acknowledge the challenge of winning next year as he described how he has sought to govern since taking office in January.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company