Monday, February 14, 2011

Boucher's Loyal Base Makes Him A Potential Senate Candidate

With Jim Webb announcing that he won’t be running for reelection, there has been a lot of discussion about the potential Democratic candidates. One of the names that keeps coming up is former Rep. Rick Boucher. Before losing his seat in 2010, Boucher represented the 9th Congressional District for 28 years and had an extremely loyal base in Southwest Virginia. While he might not have been a favorite speaker at large political gatherings or a frequent guest on the Sunday morning talk shows, Boucher was an extremely efficient member of the House of Representatives and developed a very strong base of supporters during his career. I therefore wanted to take some time to share some of my thoughts about him and the possibility of a Boucher for Senate campaign.

As some of you may remember, I worked for a statewide candidate in 2009 who was based in Southwest Virginia. As I traveled throughout that region, I frequently heard praise about the work that Boucher had done for the area. The praise didn’t only come from Democratic activists, but it also came from school teachers and small business owners who spoke about how many jobs Boucher brought to Southwest Virginia and made sure that the area had access to 21st Century technology. I particularly remember one trip to the far Southwest corner of Virginia I made with another staffer from Northern Virginia. As we were driving down, the other staffer brought up just how amazed he was that the little town we were traveling to in the middle of nowhere actually had high speed internet that frequently was faster than what you could find in modest size cities. Situations like that are largely as a result of the work that Boucher did while in Congress.

I’m certainly not the only one who has noticed the popularity that Boucher has in Southwest Virginia. Debra McCown has written an article that highlights how the former congressman was able to consistently receive 60 to 70 percent of the vote during his almost three decades in the House. One of the key aspects of Boucher’s work McCown highlighted was the funding he procured to extend water lines into the rural counties of the region.
“Every time we have water projects or wastewater plans or things like that, the congressman has always brought money to complete those projects,” Puckett said. “Most of those projects had state money and local money in it, and the congressman always finished the deal.”

He said that infrastructure has been important not only for quality of life, but for helping breed regional cooperation that’s become helpful in other endeavors since.

“Infrastructure’s one of the first things that allows you to have growth,” Puckett said. “He brought people together to start with to give them sort of a vision on what he thought might be there, but he also brought money.”
Despite the loyal base that supported Boucher as a result of his efforts to build Southwest Virginia’s infrastructure, Boucher did end up losing his seat during the Republican swarm of 2010. Outside of the fighting 9th, however, most of the Democratic activists and mainstream media were left discussing how Glenn Nye and Tom Perriello lost their seats. Much of this is a result of the fact that Nye and Perriello also had close races in 2008 and also received a lot of attention during the debate surrounding healthcare reform. I bring this up merely to highlight how Boucher would have to greatly increase his name recognition and popularity outside of his district if he were to run for the Senate.

Another concern that a lot of activists have about Boucher is that he represented a rural district. While people who have met him agree that he would make a good senator, there is a lot of concern about running a relatively unknown candidate who isn’t from one of the traditionally strong Democratic voting blocks. In conversations I’ve had with folks about his chances, I’ve had several people compare him to Creigh Deeds while highlighting how a lot of voters in NoVA simply won’t trust a rural politician no matter how qualified he or she is. However unjust or untrue that might be, it is a perception that’s out there and could prevent some leaders and activists from rallying behind a Boucher candidacy early on.

As the discussion continues surrounding which Democrats could potentially run for Webb’s seat, I wouldn’t be surprised if Boucher’s name continues to be mentioned. He definitely does have a loyal base that will keep his name out there and a record that proves he could be a very productive member of the US Senate. With people like Tom Perriello, Gerry Connolly, and Tim Kaine all “not ruling out” a potential Senate bid, however, I highly doubt that we’ll actually see his name gain a whole lot of traction.

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