For four Virginia Democrats, it's sink or swim time in a GOP current

By Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 31, 2010; 7:39 PM

With Republicans expected to make gains in congressional races across the country Tuesday, four vulnerable Virginia Democrats are fighting to avoid being swept away by a GOP wave.

The battlefield stretches from the Washington suburbs to the Tennessee border.

In the Fairfax-based 11th District, Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D) is trying to fend off Oakton businessman Keith Fimian (R). In the 5th District, Rep. Tom Perriello (D) welcomed President Obama to Charlottesville Friday for his uphill race against state Sen. Robert Hurt (R).

In the Hampton Roads region, Rep. Glenn Nye (D) is struggling to hold on to the 2nd District seat against auto dealer Scott Rigell (R). And in Southwest Virginia's 9th District, veteran Rep. Rick Boucher (D) is squaring off against state House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith (R).

Virginia broke toward Democrats in 2008 - Obama won the state, and Connolly, Nye and Perriello all snagged GOP-held seats. Now, the state appears to be breaking back.

"The most likely scenario out of Virginia is Republicans get two seats, and anything beyond that is icing on the cake," said Nathan L. Gonzales, political editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report.

Rigell and Hurt are favored to beat Nye and Perriello, according to Rothenberg's latest rankings, while Connolly and Boucher remain favored to hold their posts. "I could make the case for either Boucher or Connolly being the third seat, but I don't think Republicans need to win either of those to get a majority," Gonzales said.

Connolly's contest appears to have become more competitive in the final weeks before Election Day. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee pumped more than $1 million into the district for hard-hitting TV ads, and the Connolly and Fimian campaigns both have ads of their own in heavy rotation.

No polls of the race have been released in several weeks, but Republicans claim their internal numbers show Fimian in position to pull an upset. Democrats acknowledge the race is close but continue to think Connolly will prevail, as he did when the two men met in 2008.

Connolly may have caught a late break, as Fimian has been forced to backtrack in recent days after declaring in a television interview that the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre might have been avoided if more students on campus were "packing heat."

Perhaps recognizing that Fairfax County is relatively moderate on social issues, Fimian said Friday on WTOP radio that it was "a horrible choice of words" and that he had "meant to say" there should have been more security guards on campus.

In the 5th District, Obama's visit Friday brought national attention to both candidates. While Perriello was rallying with Obama in Charlottesville, Hurt appeared Friday night on Sean Hannity's show on Fox News Channel.

Obama praised Perriello as someone who came to Washington "to do what was right," while Republicans suggested the rally proved Perriello was a rubber stamp for the national Democratic agenda.

Other big-name surrogates were thick on Virginia's leaf-covered ground over the weekend.

Sen. Mark Warner (D) was scheduled to do weekend events with Nye, Boucher and Perriello, while Sen. James Webb (D) had a gathering planned with Connolly.

On the Republican side, Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II were scheduled to crisscross the state Sunday and Monday to rally with all four GOP candidates - Fimian, Griffith, Hurt and Rigell.

In the 9th District, the last publicly released poll of the contest showed Boucher and Griffith in a statistical tie. That marked a departure from most previous surveys of the race, which showed Boucher with a clear lead.

Nye and Rigell were similarly close in the last public poll of the 2nd District contest, although in that case the Republican has led in nearly every other survey.

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