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SEALs’ District Is Battleground Territory

Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images
In late October 2008, Barack Obama campaigned in Virginia Beach with Sen. Jim Webb (right) and now-Sen. Mark Warner.

If the demise of Osama bin Laden has an effect on President Barack Obama’s re-election and other 2012 campaigns, there may be no district in the country where it will be measured more than in Virginia’s military-rich 2nd district.

The Virginia Beach-based seat is home to the elite team of Navy SEALs that took out the terrorist responsible for the 9/11 attacks on the United States. Obama narrowly carried the swing district, believed to have the highest concentration of active-duty military and civilian veterans, and voters there could be inspired to vote for him again next year.

“We have a lot of devoted patriots who really come out strong for elections, and they see the president as really strong now,” Sandra Brandt, the state Democratic Party’s 2nd district chairwoman, said on Tuesday. “This morning, and every place I went yesterday, all the conversations were about how proud the people were about what the president had done.”

The area where some of the country’s bravest soldiers are trained has proved to be a top political battleground and bellwether in recent cycles, and next year it is expected to feature competitive contests from the presidential to Congressional levels. It is Republican-leaning, but Obama carried it by 2 points in 2008.

Virginia Beach-based Republican consultant Brian Kirwin said it could “easily” go Democratic again in 2012, when Obama is expected to compete heavily in the area and freshman Rep. Scott Rigell (R) is facing his first re-election.

“What I would suspect is in 2012 you’ve got Obama back on the ticket, all Democrats have to do is run a respectable candidate and Rigell is history,” Kirwin said. “It’s very military, not hard-core Republican. Before 2000, this district was owned by Democrats.”

But a Republican strategist said different issues, including health care, would make Obama’s path more difficult.

“At the end of the day, it would be hard to envision Obama’s numbers doing better in Virginia than they did four years ago,” he said. “Not only is turnout going to be a huge factor that could hurt the president, his poll numbers with independent voters are drastically different.”

Brandt said she has spoken with four potential candidates who are still in the early stages of deciding whether to challenge Rigell. Brandt did not disclose who they were, but the names being floated elsewhere include businessman Paul Hirschbiel, state Del. Paula Miller and former Rep. Glenn Nye, whom Rigell unseated.

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