Eyes are watching Virginia's election for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 9th Congressional District, known as coal country, where the incumbent for the past 28 years, Democrat Rick Boucher, 64, has met a challenge he may not have seen coming.
Republican Delegate Morgan Griffith, 52, a member of the Commonwealth's House of Delegates since 1994 and Majority Leader since 2000, had been trailing Boucher in polls throughout the summer and into the fall. But non-stop campaigning and relentless, enthusiastic volunteers who smell blood in the water, Griffith has been chipping away at Boucher's lead. This week the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) released polling numbers that showed the two candidates in a dead heat with Boucher at 44% and Griffith at 44%.
A battleship in the Virginia Democratic congressional delegation, Boucher had been considered unbeatable until Democratic President Barack Obama took office and began jamming through a number of legislative packages that were unpopular with the majority of Americans. Boucher, who has a 96% record of voting with his Party, went along with most of Obama's proposals including the $787 billion stimulus bill.
Perhaps the most damaging was Boucher's 2009 vote for Obama's cap and trade bill. Cap and trade, a climate change bill intended to limit greenhouse gases, could potentially be disastrous for the targeted coal industry. With thousands in this southwestern Virginia area earning a living from coal and the possibility of thousands of jobs in jeopardy because of the bill, the vote may be the game-changer in this election.
In 2008 the GOP didn't even field a candidate against Boucher. However, after his cap and trade vote and in the anti-incumbent climate that spread across the nation, he became vulnerable, as reported in the Wall Street Journal:
Mr. Boucher felt so invulnerable that last year he made the mindboggling decision to join with green purists to craft the cap-and-trade dagger aimed at his own district—home to thousands of coal jobs. He is a powerful member on the House Energy Committee, and his support helped pull along other reluctant Democrats, earning him a shout out from the White House. It also earned him a target on his back.
There have been other recent questionable decisions by Boucher. The explosive discovery that he had decided to buy a new car with campaign funds was met with disbelief and spread throughout the internet. At a time when many were reeling from lost jobs, reduced wages, and closed factories, that news may not have set well with Boucher supporters driving 10-year-old vehicles. After all, many -- if not most -- did not make anywhere near Boucher's $174,000 annual government salary.
Three weeks ago, when Democrats in Congress abruptly decided to vote to adjourn early and return home without voting on a budget, thereby blocking Republicans who had convinced many Democrats to cross the aisle and vote to extend the Bush tax cuts, the narrow Democratic victory was 210-209. One vote made the difference ... Rep. Rick Boucher:
Wednesday's news from Capital Hill may turn more constituents in the 9th District against their 14-term representative. The close vote in the U.S. House of Representatives on whether to adjourn Congress, that saw many Democrats voting with the Republicans to stay in session, came down to a single vote that was cast by Rick Boucher.
In a 210-209 squeaker, the deciding vote by Boucher kept his 96.4% voting record, with Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats, intact. Perhaps he was feeling safe in his district. He may not be as safe as he thinks.
With less than two weeks until election day, the race in southwest Virginia may go down to the wire, something many thought impossible at the beginning of this race. Judging from the negative ads from the Boucher campaign, it's clear he's feeling the heat. Griffith volunteers are stepping it up for the final Get Out The Vote (GOTV) push, conservative groups are donating for Griffith TV ads, individuals are stroking that final wave of checks, and Lt. Governor Bill Bolling sent an email on Tuesday asking all to join in and help.
One Virginia political pundit told me he thought Morgan Griffith could pull it off with 52% of the vote. If Griffith continues the pace he's been keeping the past months, that pundit's prediction could come true on November 2.