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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.

After voting against a number of major Democratic items in his one term in office — and without Obama at the top of the ticket — Nye lost to Rigell by 11 points last year. In a statement to Roll Call, Nye declined to say whether he was considering another bid but noted that he was proud of the SEALs from his hometown of Virginia Beach and that he worked during his time in office to ensure they “had the facilities and equipment they need to protect our country.”

Democrats including Nye and now-Sen. Mark Warner swept the races up and down the ticket in 2008. Two years earlier, then-Sen. George Allen (R) lost statewide but carried the 2nd district, as did then-Rep. Thelma Drake (R), who went on to lose to Nye in 2008. Tim Kaine (D), who is running for Senate, won it narrowly in his 2005 gubernatorial bid, and in 2004 President George W. Bush won it by 16 points.

“As you’ll find in the last few cycles, the district in presidential years and even when there’s a Senate race on the ballot, it tends to follow the trend of the top of the ticket,” Kirwin said. “When Obama swept in with the wave, Glenn Nye got carried along. When Nye didn’t have him, he got swept back. The 2nd district really gets trended by what’s above on the ballot.”

The competitiveness of the district next year will in part depend on how the lines are reshaped in redistricting. Insiders said it will likely favor Republicans, but to what extent will not be known until the state Legislature continues map negotiations later this month.

Still, the district’s makeup, with veterans constituting 20 percent of the population, is not expected to change much.

Hampton Roads is the metropolitan area that includes the cities of Norfolk, Newport News, Hampton and Virginia Beach, the state’s largest city, and is also defined by the crisscross of waterways that help make it among the greatest natural harbors in the world.

The economy revolves around the defense industry, and, according to the Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance, seven of the 10 largest defense contractors in the world are located in the area.

Every military branch is represented, especially the Navy — along with nearby Naval Air Station Oceana, Naval Station Norfolk is the largest naval base in the world.

“That impacts every fabric of our community in a great way. This is a patriotic area. You can’t drive through a neighborhood and not see American flags,” said Jason Miyares, an area native and political consultant for Rigell. “There are two things that dominate Hampton Roads: One is water, and two is the military.”

According to Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms, the area also depends largely on tourism and agriculture, but it did not get hit by the recession the same way many other parts of the country did.

The Obama campaign also featured a stellar turnout operation there that helped him win 40,000 more votes than Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) won four years earlier. However, Miyares said that even in a strong year for Democrats nationwide, Obama only narrowly won the district. And what helped carry Rigell into office in 2010 will likely help keep him in office for another term.

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