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Va. Republicans aim to take 4 Democrats' congressional seats

"My ultimate goal is not to get reelected," he said. "It's to know that I did the best damn job I could representing the people of the 5th District and making a difference. That's just a different litmus test than some of the powers that be are used to working with."

Boucher, of southwest Virginia's 9th District, is vulnerable despite longstanding popularity and a reputation for strong constituent services over nearly three decades in Congress. He won last year without opposition. But Obama also lost the 9th by a wider margin than votes in any of Virginia's 10 other congressional districts.

That showing is partly attributable to concerns among coal miners and other working-class voters about emissions limits, health reform and other Democratic priorities. What is unclear is whether a permanent shift in party identity is under way and whether Boucher -- and other blue-dog Democrats like him along the nation's Appalachian spine -- will be among that shift's first casualties.

Connolly of Northern Virginia's 11th District is by all accounts the least vulnerable of the four Democrats being targeted. But Connolly, too, benefited from a surge of Obama voters last year, and he must win back the droves of centrists and independents in his district who turned out for McDonnell last month. While he acknowledged that challenge, Connolly noted that one Republican victory, especially with a tough economy and a weak opponent, does not signal a change in the underlying dynamics of his district.

"A Republican on any day of the week can win an election," Connolly said. "We just witnessed it. But the default vote is Democratic, absent a bad candidate or some other factor. That defines a competitive arena."

Fairfax County businessman Keith S. Fimian is preparing for a rematch against Connolly, and Pat S. Herrity, an elected board member in Fairfax, is also considering jumping in. Several state lawmakers are considering runs against Boucher, and multiple Republicans have lined up to win the nomination in both the 2nd and 5th districts.

Mullins said he expects the challengers in all four races to run against the voting records of the incumbents on emissions restrictions, the stimulus package, an expansion of union powers and the health-care reform bill. Not all of the four Democrats voted in favor of all of these measures, but Republicans hope to use a broad brush to paint all four as close Obama allies and out of step with Virginia.

"These are not the votes Virginians want to see," he said.

Yet Republican hunger could present an opportunity for the Democrats, particularly in Perriello's 5th District, where at least seven Republicans are considering bids for the GOP nomination and where several factions of the conservative Tea Party movement are at work to make sure a like-minded candidate wins. Such forces could cause divisions among Republicans; some believe that a more moderate candidate would fare better against Perriello, while others have threatened to mount independent bids for office that could divide the Republican vote.

Kaine has said that Democrats have an opportunity of their own in Republican J. Randy Forbes's 4th Congressional District in southeast Virginia. But many believe that's a long shot in a district that favors the GOP.

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