Losing political bets 

The Washington Post has a story on Democratic Congressman Rick Boucher, first elected in 1982, who for the first time in years seems to be facing a difficult battle for reelection. He represents the 9th congressional district of Virginia, the far southwest corner of the state, which is part of what I have called the Jacksonian belt, where Barack Obama ran very poorly in 2008 in both the Democratic primaries and the general election. This is also a district whose economy is heavily dependent on coal. The Post reporter makes a lame effort to blame Obama’s weak showings and Boucher’s problems as racism, but Wise County—one of the coal counties which didn’t support Obama in 2008—voted 60%-40% for Douglas Wilder, America’s first black elected governor, in 1989. In contrast, Wise County voted 82%-16% for Hillary Clinton over Obama in February 2008 and 63%-35% for John McCain over Obama in November 2008. Wise County voters have problems not with black candidates generally, but with Barack Obama in particular.

And with politicians whose policies would damage the coal industry. That hurt a couple of longtime Democratic state legislators from the area, who lost their seats in the November 2009 Virginia state election. And it is threatening Boucher in the 9th. As the Post story noted, “Boucher's support for cap and trade was good for his district, he said, because he negotiated major concessions for the industry. And if Congress does not begin regulating carbon emissions, the Environmental Protection Agency will -- without those concessions, Boucher said. ‘On cap and trade, there is real misunderstanding on my role and what the bill was designed to do,’ he said.” Boucher was in a difficult position: as chairman of a subcommittee on the Energy and Commerce Committee, he must have felt great pressure to support the cap-and-trade bill co-sponsored by fellow E&C subcommittee chairman Edward Markey and full committee chairman Henry Waxman. If he won’t support their bills, how can he expect they will support his? And indeed he may have gotten something in the way of concessions from them. But Boucher was one of several politicians of both parties—Arlen Specter and Charlie Crist are others—who in the first half of 2009 placed political bets on the continuing popularity of Barack Obama and his programs. Those now appear to be losing bets, as Specter and Crist trail in the Pennsylvania and Florida Senate races and Boucher, as the Post reports, is in trouble in his quest for a 15th term in the House.

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Michael Barone

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