Commentary Magazine


Topic: Democratic stronghold

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.

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.

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Losing Coal Country

This report suggests that the Democrats are in for some trouble in Virginia and other conservative congressional districts that had been voting Democratic of late:

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.

The politician who is going to feel the brunt of this is a 14-term (yes, 14) congressman, Rick Boucher, who made the error of voting for cap-and-trade while representing a district in coal country. They’re angry with him but furious with Obama:

Residents talk often of their “pridefulness” and independence. But they feel like criminals when politicians try to take their guns away, like children when they’re told they need health care and like villains when coal is blamed for destroying the environment although it provides most of the region’s jobs and half of the nation’s power. They assume that Obama doesn’t get any of this — or doesn’t care.

The report hastens to accuse the residents of racism and to make the utterly unsubstantiated claim that race is also hampering Boucher, who is white. “Race adds another challenge for Boucher, who enthusiastically endorsed Obama early in the 2008 Democratic primary.” Got that?

Boucher is, however, going to have to explain his embrace of Obama’s agenda, and that’s trickier. On cap-and-trade, he’ll have to do better than “there is real misunderstanding on my role and what the bill was designed to do.”

More generally, he will have to respond to the visceral distaste that residents — like this retired coal miner — express toward those in power now: “The Republicans gave the Democrats the majority — why? Because they didn’t know how to keep their hands out of the till. … But the Democrats, they’re trying to push all these things on the American people. And we don’t want it.” That is what many Democratic incumbents will be hearing this year and why, I suspect, there will be fewer of them around next year.

This report suggests that the Democrats are in for some trouble in Virginia and other conservative congressional districts that had been voting Democratic of late:

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.

The politician who is going to feel the brunt of this is a 14-term (yes, 14) congressman, Rick Boucher, who made the error of voting for cap-and-trade while representing a district in coal country. They’re angry with him but furious with Obama:

Residents talk often of their “pridefulness” and independence. But they feel like criminals when politicians try to take their guns away, like children when they’re told they need health care and like villains when coal is blamed for destroying the environment although it provides most of the region’s jobs and half of the nation’s power. They assume that Obama doesn’t get any of this — or doesn’t care.

The report hastens to accuse the residents of racism and to make the utterly unsubstantiated claim that race is also hampering Boucher, who is white. “Race adds another challenge for Boucher, who enthusiastically endorsed Obama early in the 2008 Democratic primary.” Got that?

Boucher is, however, going to have to explain his embrace of Obama’s agenda, and that’s trickier. On cap-and-trade, he’ll have to do better than “there is real misunderstanding on my role and what the bill was designed to do.”

More generally, he will have to respond to the visceral distaste that residents — like this retired coal miner — express toward those in power now: “The Republicans gave the Democrats the majority — why? Because they didn’t know how to keep their hands out of the till. … But the Democrats, they’re trying to push all these things on the American people. And we don’t want it.” That is what many Democratic incumbents will be hearing this year and why, I suspect, there will be fewer of them around next year.

Read Less




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