Endangered Dems search for paths to glory

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 It’s a political truism at this point that Democrats have a tough row to hoe come November. The economy might not be in the toilet, but it’s definitely perched on the rim, hoping like hell that some fat trucker with a bad case of gastro-intestinal distress doesn’t walk through the door. President Obama’s approval ratings are well below 50 percent, while most generic congressional preference polls have the Republicans with a significant (and growing) lead. And, per usual, the right wing noise machine is cranked up to 11, taking the most insignificant issues—“Ground Zero Mosque,” anyone?—and blowing them up to Brobdingnagian proportions.

Longtime Ninth District rep Rick Boucher faces a grave threat to his Congressional seat this fall. How will freshmen like Tom Perriello and Glenn Nye fare?

So what’s a poor Dem to do? Well, that’s a matter of some debate—and the answer seems to vary mightily depending on location. 

Take longtime Abingdon resident Rick Boucher, for instance. A seasoned pol who has represented Virginia’s Ninth Congressional District for nearly 28 years, Boucher is such a mainstay in his conservative southwestern zone that he usually doesn’t even draw a serious challenge. But in this strongly anti-incumbent year, his Republican rival, state Delegate (and House majority leader) Morgan Griffith, has a real chance of unseating him. This has forced Boucher to take a particularly pugnacious stance as he fights to hold onto his House seat, running radio ads like “Listen,” in which he highlights his vote against President Obama’s healthcare bill, brags about fighting to protect coal jobs from cap-and-trade legislation, and tosses in a NRA endorsement for good measure.

Another potentially endangered donkey, freshman representative Glenn Nye, has likewise been putting plenty of space between himself and the White House. Like Boucher, Nye cast a “nay” vote on the healthcare overhaul, and has recently emerged as a high-profile opponent of the Pentagon’s decision to shutter the U.S. Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, the heart of his military-heavy district.

But the most interesting case study has to be Fifth District incumbent Tom Perriello, who is currently trying to thread a very tight needle: supporting much of the Obama administration’s agenda while simultaneously placating his disgruntled constituents.

By all rights, Perriello should be dead in the water. After all, he was elected in a largely rural district by one of the smallest margins in the country, and subsequently voted for the much-demonized stimulus and healthcare bills. But Perriello’s strategy of aggressive retail politicking and constituent care has kept him surprisingly competitive. (The most recent poll, by the GOP-sponsored American Action Forum, has Perriello down six to his Republican opponent Robert Hurt.)

And when you watch the man in action, it’s easy to see why he remains viable. Though sometimes awkward and distant, Perriello has a real knack for getting past the shouting and vitriol to issues that actually matter to local voters. For instance, when the inevitable “Ground Zero Mosque” question arose at a recent town hall, his answer was a model of political jujitsu: “Let me start by saying, I cannot imagine wanting the government to be able to tell me and my faith community where we can build a house of worship on private property…I have opinions on whether it’s a good idea or not, but…compared to the importance of solving the economy right now…this is a distraction.”

So, will any of this work? As always, it’s impossible to say. But one thing’s for sure: Just as each of these candidates prays that their strategy is correct, so too does the GOP hope fervently that they’re wrong.

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