ABINGDON, Va. — Rick Boucher voted for the “Job-Killing Cap & Trade Energy Tax,” says a voter guide distributed in Virginia’s 9th District and that may well be the obituary on the Democrat’s 28-year career in Congress.
Southwest Virginia is coal country and, according to an estimate by the National Association of Manufacturers, the Waxman-Markey bill for which Boucher voted — formally known as the American Clean Energy and Security Act — would eliminate 56,000 jobs in Virginia. The unemployment rate in many counties in Boucher’s district has been above 10 percent for months, and it is hard to see why anyone concerned about this region’s economy would vote for the man who voted for legislation so inimical to their own interests.
President Obama didn’t exactly help the Democrat incumbent’s re-election chances last year when he declared, “I love Rick Boucher,” a statement that has now been replayed thousands of times in Republican campaign ads in a district that John McCain carried with 58 percent of the vote in 2008.
Improbable as it may seem, however, VA-9 is still a rated a “toss-up.” For months, polls showed Boucher with a double-digit lead over Republican challenger Morgan Griffith. It was not until this week, in the wake of a televised debate on a Lynchburg station, that a poll by Survey USA showed Griffith pulling ahead by a single point, 47 to 46 percent.
That Boucher could get 46 percent of the vote here — indeed, the incumbent may actually win re-election Tuesday — demonstrates the power of Democrat party attack ads, which have been pouring into airwaves and mailboxes in the 9th District, as in so many other key congressional districts nationwide.
Months ago, top Democrat strategists realized that if this year’s mid-term election were fought as a referendum on their own party’s record, they would lose. Instead, as Matt Bai of the New York Times explained in July, Democrats wanted to make the election “a choice between two parties — one that offers a workable agenda and one that clings to discredited ideas.” The problem with that strategy, it seems, is that Republican ideas of free enterprise and less government aren’t nearly as “discredited” as Democrats had hoped. And so the Democrats adopted two basic tactics: Accuse Republicans of favoring heinous policies (like “shipping jobs overseas“) and unload opposition-research files that highlight negative personal information about GOP challengers.
With a huge financial advantage — the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised nearly $22 million more than its counterpart, the National Republican Congressional Committee — Democrats have unleashed these attacks in an astonishing blitzkrieg of TV ads. The result is that GOP candidates in key districts are campaigning against a powerful headwind of negativity, as television commercials tell voters over and over that Republicans are bad people who favor bad policies. Just this week it was reported that the DCCC had purchased another $21.6 million in TV airtime in 66 districts. And in nearly all of those districts, the Democrat incumbent has his own fundraising advantage over the GOP challenger.
Such is the case in VA-9, where Boucher has raised more than $2.3 million while Griffith has raised a little over $800,000. Boucher’s basic attack is that his Republican opponent doesn’t live in the district. One oversized mailing features a giant headline: “Meet Morgan Griffith. Not From Here. Not For Us.” Another mailing declares: “It’s a Long Way From Morgan Griffith’s Home… to Ours.”
Actually, while Griffith lives in the adjoining 6th District, the Republican can literally throw a stone from his home in Salem into the 9th District, which contains many of his constituents in the Virginia House of Delegates. Nevertheless, Boucher and his Democratic Party allies have enough cash to hammer the GOP challenger with TV ads that tell voters he’s a outsider. Griffith “supported taking money away from our schools,” and “blocked electricity rate reform,” says the Boucher TV ad that concludes, “Morgan Griffith: He’s not from here… and it shows.”
Yet the Democrats have other tricks up their sleeves this year. In many close races, third-party “independent” candidates appear to be running primarily as spoilers against Republicans, hoping to drain off enough anti-incumbent votes to enable Democrats to survive by narrow margins. In Nevada, for example, Scott Ashjian’s is running as the “Tea Party” candidate for Harry Reid’s Senate seat, although actual Tea Party activists there have denounced Ashjian as a phony, and Republicans suspect the Ashjian campaign is actually a Reid stalking horse. In other races, as Politico reported this week, Democrats appear to be “attacking” minor third-party candidates as a way to draw away conservative voters from the Republican challenger.
Here in Virginia’s 9th District, businessman Jeremiah Heaton is on the ballot as an independent candidate. As Virginia conservative blogger Jerry Furhman notes, Heaton doesn’t seem to be running against the incumbent Boucher, but instead “has chosen to devote his every energy to attacking the Republican in this race.” With Boucher and Griffith in a dead heat, votes for Heaton might be enough to keep the Democrat from paying the price for supporting Obama’s agenda in a district where the president is deeply unpopular.
Adam Tolbert is chairman of the GOP in Smyth County, where the unemployment rate is currently 11.8 percent. He compares the Democrat’s campaign to the horror-movie marathons that cable movie networks run at Halloween. “The last week has been nothing but Rick Boucher’s dirty tricks,” Tolbert said Thursday night at Griffith’s campaign office in Abingdon.
With four days left until Election Day, the Griffith campaign is gearing up a series of get-out-the-vote rallies across the district. Griffith is running hard. But it looks like Boucher is running scared.