Commentary Magazine


Democratic Candidates Stay Local if They Hope to Win

Yesterday in the Washington Post was a story that didn’t get much attention — but that is the kind of story that causes Democratic politicos in the White House, on Capitol Hill, and in the political establishment to lose sleep. According to the Post:

The anger at Washington that is seeping across the country registered a while back in the high ridges of Appalachia, a once-indomitable Democratic stronghold where voters turned away from President Obama in 2008 just as overwhelmingly as they embraced him most everywhere else. Voters in Virginia’s 9th Congressional District are mad that the government has spent hundreds of billions to fix an economy that seems only to deteriorate around them. They’re fearful of a federal takeover of health care. They’re petrified that proposed emissions limits would destroy the coal industry that provides most of the region’s jobs. And they want no part of a president they view as elitist and unlike them.

That anger, combined with the area’s traditional Democratic ties, makes this mountainous region — and a wider, rural arc from southern Ohio to Arkansas — a prime battleground in this year’s congressional elections. …

Even Rep. Rick Boucher, a 14-term incumbent who hasn’t faced a strong challenger since the Reagan years, is in peril, prompting him to shift into campaign mode months earlier than usual and before Republicans have chosen his opponent. Whether he — and other Democrats like him — can hold on will probably determine whether his party can continue to control Congress. In the “Fightin’ 9th,” Boucher’s support of the coal industry and efforts to modernize the local economy give Democrats their best chance to hold a seat they can’t afford to lose.

Democratic seats that have been safe for decades are now vulnerable. Republicans are trying to nationalize their races; Democratic incumbents are trying to localize them.

Developments like these are significant straws in the wind. They are the kinds of things you see when an epic election is in the making.