New Blood in the Old Dominion

Nye, Perriello Prime ’10 Targets

Posted January 26, 2009 at 6:23pm

With both men set to turn 35 this year, freshman Democratic Reps. Glenn Nye and Tom Perriello may be the “young guns” of the Virginia delegation when it comes to the 111th Congress, but both are also carrying the weight of large political bull’s-eyes on their backs.

Nye’s Virginia Beach-based 2nd district and Perriello’s south-central Virginia 5th district are among the top targets for national Republicans in 2010. Both men won surprising victories against well-funded incumbents in districts that had been considered relatively safe GOP territory as recently as a year ago. Now Republicans are determined to regain their lost ground.

“Both Tom Perriello and Glenn Nye benefited from a combination of President Obama’s coattails and a little bit of luck,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain said Monday. “There is a solid bench of potential candidates in each respective district, and we are hopeful that we can tap into both of them.”

In the coming cycle, both Nye and Perriello can be sure that Republicans will attempt to paint them as out of touch with their conservative-leaning districts and too closely tied to the liberal wings of the Democratic Party.

With that strategy clearly in mind, a release from Perriello last week was aptly titled “In Break from Party, Perriello Opposes Release of Bailout Funds.”

While a lot can happen in two years, Republicans are certain the environment will be much more favorable to their candidates in Virginia in 2010. Indeed, it’s hard to think of how 2008 could have been much worse.

Nye and Perriello “had the perfect storm this last time” in terms of the Democratic ticket they were running on, said former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), referring to the fact that the two relatively unknown Democrats were able to run with now-President Barack Obama and now-Sen. Mark Warner (D) on the ballot.

“They are going to be naked this time. There’s no Senate race or anything else there,” Davis said. “They have to be careful in running away from their party that they don’t scare away the base that they need to turn out in an off-year election.”

As the political landscape sets up now, Perriello probably has the tougher hill to climb to make it to a second term in 2010.

Not only did Nye have the greater margin of victory — 4 points compared with Perriello’s 727 votes — but the structure of his Hampton Roads district is decidedly more favorable.

The 5th is covered by multiple media markets, including the very expensive Richmond market. Perriello hadn’t expected to run ads in the Richmond market in 2008 until the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee came in late and bought airtime there.

The 2nd is composed of a single media market. That, along with the fact that the 2nd is a third of the size of the 5th, means that Nye’s district is much easier to get around and to raise his profile in.

The 5th district also has a slightly larger black population than the 2nd. And if black turnout falls in 2010 — as Republicans believe it will without Obama on the ticket — that could hurt Perriello more than Nye.

Still, Democrats certainly won’t lack for resources in the coming cycle. Perriello will have popular big-name Democrats such as Warner and fellow Sen. Jim Webb (D) to campaign with. Meanwhile, the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee is Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, who is already proving he will bring big political names into the Old Dominion. On Sunday, the state Democratic Party announced that former President Bill Clinton will be the keynote speaker at this year’s Jefferson-Jackson dinner.

“The 2nd is a plausible takeback, but the 5th is much more competitive,” said Chris LaCivita, a Republican strategist in Virginia. “However, it’s not more competitive with Virgil Goode as the candidate.”

Goode has been mum about whether he intends to try to reclaim the seat he held for six terms.

On Monday, Goode said, “I’m looking at it. … I haven’t made any sure decision yet.”

But LaCivita and some other Republicans believe Goode ran a lackluster campaign last cycle, and they don’t see any reason to believe he’d do better in a rematch.

“He left $200,000 unspent in his 2008 campaign account. That’s political malpractice,” LaCivita said.

A few Republican state delegates, including Robert Bell and Danny Marshall, have been mentioned as possible challengers to Perriello in 2010, as has state Sen. Robert Hurt.

In the 2nd, it’s also unclear if Drake will run again, but that hasn’t stopped at least one Republican from jumping into the race. Drake could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Former Virginia Beach GOP chairman and retired Marine Chuck Smith has already said he’ll seek the Republican nomination. Other possible GOP candidates include two local state Senators, Ken Stolle and Frank Wagner.

But spokesmen for both Perriello and Nye shrugged off early talk that they may be in GOP cross hairs already.

“There’s always going to be target lists, but I don’t think the constituents really care about lists,” Nye spokesman Clark Pettig said. “In the end, they are going to make a decision based on whether or not he has been able to deliver for them.”

Perriello spokeswoman Jessica Barba agreed with those sentiments.

“The Congressman is much less concerned right now with keeping his job than he is about our constituents keeping their jobs,” Barba said. “I think we need to demonstrate to folks that first of all we’re here to get a job done. … If we can do that and show those results, that’s the best way to get re-elected.”