Sunday, February 21, 2010
Griffith may make bid for Congress
The Salem delegate is marshalling support for an effort to unseat U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher.
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From today's paper
RICHMOND -- After weeks of indecision, state Del. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, is lining up support for a likely campaign against Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher of Abingdon.
Griffith, the majority leader of the House of Delegates, was contacting party leaders and activists in the 9th Congressional District on Saturday to nail down support for his candidacy and is nearing a decision to formally enter the race. He faces a March 1 deadline to file as a Republican candidate in the district.
"It's going to take a lot of time and money, but I believe it can be done," Griffith said in a telephone interview Saturday. "I just have to make sure there's nothing I've overlooked."
Griffith, who has consulted with local, state and congressional Republicans over the past several weeks, said he has not made a firm decision. But two state Republican operatives with knowledge of Griffith's plans said he is likely to run for the congressional seat after getting positive feedback from GOP activists in the district.
At least three other candidates -- Adam Light and David Moore of Tazewell County and Jessee Ring of Pulaski County -- have announced plans to seek the GOP nomination, which will be decided at a May 22 convention.
Griffith's Salem home is barely outside the 9th District, which extends from the Tennessee and Kentucky borders to Roanoke County and includes portions of the Alleghany Highlands. Boucher has represented the district since 1983 and has been considered virtually unbeatable for much of his tenure.
Griffith is not required by law to live in the 9th District to run for the congressional seat.
Griffith said he would not move from his Salem home to run, partly because Salem may well become part of the 9th District after the General Assembly reapportions districts next year. Griffith's House of Delegates district includes part of Roanoke County and overlaps Boucher's congressional district.
Griffith said he believes he can be a formidable candidate in the 9th District. Republicans consider Boucher vulnerable -- partly because of voters' anger over the performance of President Obama and the Democratic Congress. Critics have targeted Boucher's support for a proposed cap-and-trade system to control greenhouse gas emissions, arguing that it could hurt the coal industry.
Boucher could not be reached for comment on Saturday. The veteran Democrat has defended his support for the American Clean Energy and Security Act and said he fought for protections for the coal industry, negotiating provisions in the legislation that would enable utilities to continue using coal and further develop "clean coal" technologies, among other things. The Senate has yet to take action on the issue.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Jesse Ferguson said Boucher has "a widely recognized record of creating jobs, diversifying the economy and bringing advanced communications capabilities and telemedicine services to Southwest Virginia."
"The fact that Republicans have spent this many months searching high and low for a candidate is evidence of Representative Boucher's support," he said. "The 9th Congressional District has unique and diverse needs that only a congressman who lives there and is deeply knowledgeable about those needs can represent."'
Griffith, 51, was first elected to the House of Delegates in 1993. His knowledge of House rules and his willingness to combat Democratic leaders lifted him to the Republicans' leadership ranks. He became the majority leader after Republicans gained control of the House in 1999.
Griffith's work to recruit Republican legislative candidates and raise money for them has built a reservoir of support within his party. But Griffith acknowledged that he will need substantial financial help to mount a meaningful challenge to Boucher, who had more than $1.7 million in his campaign account when the year began.
"We've had conversations with Morgan in which we've assured him that this will be a top race for us," National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Andy Sere said.
Despite his leadership role in the House of Delegates, Griffith is not well known in large swaths of the district, especially the far Southwest Virginia coalfields. But he said hard work and his message can overcome that deficit.
"I'm going to have to reintroduce myself to deep Southwest, and there's no question he [Boucher] will have an advantage to begin with," said Griffith, who was in the region Saturday to attend a board of visitors meeting at his alma mater, Emory & Henry College. "Assuming I go forward, for the sake of argument, I believe the ideas I'll present are more reflective of the values of the district."