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Rick Boucher Gets the Vapors

They're running and they're on fire

From the Washington Post:

WISE, VA. — 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. Democrats have been losing ground here for a generation, but 2008 brought a seismic party shift that Republicans hope to make stick in November. Already, four of the region’s remaining Democrats have announced their retirements.

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.


The ability of a dyed in the wool lefty like Rick Boucher to win elections in VA-09 is a testament to the bitterness of the coal strikes in the 1920s and the devastation of the Great Depression. Indeed, Appalachia may very well be one of the last geographical areas that continues to vote reflexively left in Congressional races. They are conservative by virtually every standard and while Nixon was able to wean them away from voting Democrat in presidential elections they still send guys like Boucher, and across the border in WV-03, Saddam apologist Nick Rahall, to represent them in Congress.

This year we have the opportunity to retire Boucher and he knows it. His strategy is to keep his constituents focused on his service to the district instead of on his 15% life time rating from the American Conservative Union, his 80% rating from Americans of Democratic Action, and his vote to devastate the coal industry, the only industry of note in his district, by voting for cap and trade. All that remains is for Virginia Republicans to find a solidly conservative candidate.

Other than making Boucher’s woeful state public the article makes two useful points. First, the electorate is upset at the way things are going in a level of detail that I found surprising. According to the quote above:

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.

This is as clear an indictment of the Obama Administration as I have heard and the fact that the Post reporter wrote out this bill of particulars leads me to believe she had heard them time and again.

The second item of interest is that already the media are constructing the Democrats-lost-because-of-racism meme to rationalize the thrashing they seem poised to receive in November.

Race is also a factor. Sometimes it’s subtle, such as when Obama is described as un-Christian or un-American. Other times, slurs directed at Obama are part of the normal conversation.

Race adds another challenge for Boucher, who enthusiastically endorsed Obama early in the 2008 Democratic primary. In a year when defining himself apart from Washington is crucial to his survival, Boucher has chosen to align himself with a president whom some of his constituents will never support.

“Candidly, yes, I think some people are motivated by these more traditional attitudes,” Boucher said. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s a fact.”

Note: the genesis of the subtitle.

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