Virginia Is for Rematch Lovers

GOP to Target Three Freshmen

Posted June 24, 2009 at 6:26pm

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was recently asked how many House seats his party can pick up in the Old Dominion in 2010.

“I think we at least win back two,— he said first.

But upon further reflection he revised that answer — “You know what, I will say three.—

The seats Cantor was referring to are the three districts that Republicans lost in the 2008 cycle. They are the Virginia Beach-based 2nd district of Rep. Glenn Nye, the Southside Virginia-based 5th district of Rep. Tom Perriello and the suburban Washington, D.C.-based 11th district of Rep. Gerry Connolly.

It was a bold prediction for the GOP Whip, especially since most Republicans in the commonwealth are just focused on knocking off Nye and Perriello in 2010 (and fighting off the possible Democratic push against 10th district GOP Rep. Frank Wolf in Northern Virginia.)

“We’re not getting the 11th back,— one Virginia Republican strategist remarked this week. “It would be near-impossible.—

The Fairfax County and Prince William County-based district has only become more ethnically and racially diverse since former President George W. Bush won it by a little more than 2,000 votes in 2004.

In November, President Barack Obama won the district by 15 points, and Connolly cruised to a 12-point victory.

But Cantor, who admits that the 11th would be the toughest of the three to win this cycle, sees hope in a potential rematch featuring wealthy Republican businessman Keith Fimian.

“That guy’s the real deal,— Cantor said of Fimian. “He did pretty well last time around in one of the worst political years that I can remember.—

Fimian isn’t an official candidate yet, but he said this week that he’s likely to run again. He said he will release an official announcement of his 2010 plans early in the third quarter.

If he does run, Republican insiders expect the state and national party to rally behind him. Fimian’s deep pockets would certainly be an asset in a district that isn’t likely to rise anywhere near the top of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s target list.

Fimian loaned his campaign some $325,000 last cycle. He said this week that he’d be prepared to put in whatever resources it would take to win in 2010.

Since his defeat last fall, Fimian has gone back to running U.S. Inspect, a residential and commercial property inspection company he founded. Fimian said this week that he still believes that “smart, savvy, experienced businesspeople— are needed in Congress to help the country dig itself out of its current financial crisis.

Another possible rematch could be brewing in Perriello’s 5th district where Cantor said former Rep. Virgil Goode (R) — who was defeated in one of the biggest upsets of 2008 — is close to making a decision on whether he’ll try to win back his old seat.

Reached on Tuesday, Goode would only say that he hopes to make a decision “in the not too distant future,— but most Republican insiders expect he’ll eventually join the race.

If he does attempt a comeback, Goode will certainly have a lot to prove to his Congressional colleagues. He was widely criticized in GOP circles after losing to Perriello, who began the race as a little-known political neophyte. And the Federal Election Commission reports Goode left more than $200,000 unspent in his campaign account at the end of the race.

If Goode doesn’t run, state Del. Rob Bell or state Sen. Rob Hurt could carry the GOP mantle.

As they wait on Goode, the NRCC has been working to keep the pressure on Perriello in a district that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won by 3 points last fall.

Most recently, they slammed Perriello for his vote against an amendment that would stop funding for the closing of the detention facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, a vote Republicans believe won’t go over well in the conservative rural district.

But Perriello is finding friends in high places as he works to hold onto the swing seat. This week, the freshman Congressman was joined by officials from the White House Council on Environmental Quality at a news conference in Charlottesville, Va., to showcase a local energy efficiency program.

In the 2nd district, Cantor acknowledged that the GOP primary field also remains in flux.

Attorney and Marine Corp Veteran Chuck Smith jumped into the race early, even before former Rep. Thelma Drake (R) announced she wasn’t going to try to win back her old seat. But the field continues to grow.

Last week, businessman and former Navy SEAL Ed Maulbeck (R) filed with the FEC to take on Nye. His two decades of service with the Navy will certainly be a plus for him in a district that is home of the world’s largest naval base at Norfolk.

But Maulbeck will also be up against Naval Academy graduate and current naval reserve captain Ben Loyola (R).

Loyola, a Cuban immigrant who currently owns an engineering service contracting firm based in the 2nd district, said this week that he’ll file his paperwork with the FEC on July 1.

Another potential candidate with a military background is Scott Rigell. Rigell, who served in the Marine Corps Reserves, is the president of Freedom Automotive in Chesapeake. He’s been a major Republican donor in the 2nd district in recent years but, interestingly, he also donated $1,000 to Obama’s presidential campaign last cycle, according to campaign finance reports.

As the field continues to take shape, the NRCC is also doing its best to soften up Nye.

On Wednesday, the NRCC was quick to point out that despite efforts from Nye and other Virginia legislators to stop the process, the Navy is moving toward moving the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush to a Florida base.

But Nye is likely to draw positive press back home with two new bills he’s pushing that are targeted at veterans issues. The first is aimed at helping veterans suffering from Gulf War syndrome and from exposure to Agent Orange. The second is targeted at preventing veterans from becoming homeless.

And regardless of the NRCC efforts, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee officials say all three of Virginia’s freshmen are on solid footing as they look toward re-election next year.

“Virginians would be better served if Rep. Cantor spent less time acting like a political pundit and hypocritically claiming credit for the economic recovery package he tried to defeat,— DCCC spokeswoman Jessica Santillo said. “Congressmen Nye, Perriello and Connolly have hit the ground running in Congress, working across the aisle to deliver results for Virginia.—