Races of the WeekTriplett vs. Boucher

It was 20 years ago when Democratic Rep. Rick Boucher faced his last competitive challenge in Virginia’s 9th–so far back that the Republican nominee from that race is dead. Since securing his second term in 1984, Boucher has coasted to re-elections and, all the while voting the liberal line (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 13%).

This is considered pathetic by conservatives in the Old Dominion’s “Fighting 9th” District bordering Tennessee, which earned this nickname because of its historically rancorous politics. In 2000, the 9th gave George W. Bush a handsome 55% of the vote and Republican Sen. George Allen 57%. In ’01, it gave Republican Jerry Kilgore a whopping 69% of the vote in his winning race for attorney general.

This year, time and events may have caught up with the 55-year-old Boucher in this GOP-leaning district. Republicans have a first-rate candidate in Kevin Triplett, until last year managing director of business operations for NASCAR. With help from a wide circle of old friends from his native Dickinson County in the district as well as his buddies in the car racing industry. (The 20 top drivers in the nation have contributed to his campaign.) The 39-year-old Triplett has so far raised more than $337,000 for his challenge to Boucher.

“When I talk to people, they are amazed to learn just where my opponent stands on issues they care about,” says Triplett, “But he voted seven times against a ban on partial birth abortion, for tax dollars to develop an abortion-inducing drug, against permitting display of the Ten Commandments in public buildings, and five times against a ban on flag desecration.” The conservative GOP hopeful also hammers the incumbent for opposing President Bush’s tax cuts in ’01 and ’03–“cuts that have helped create new jobs elsewhere and are especially needed here in the 9th, where the rates of unemployment and people living below the poverty level are higher than the national average.”

After so many election cycles of ignoring opponents, Boucher has begun to show a bit of nervousness about the hard-charging Triplett. “His own fund-raising letters attack me for living in Daytona before moving here last year,” notes Triplett. “What he doesn’t mention is that I was born and raised here in Dickinson County, that my mother and grandmother have always lived here, and that my wife and I had planned to move back to raise our young children long before we had any idea of running for office.”

Taking his message of conservatism and opportunity to 4-H, Kiwanis Clubs and church suppers across the district, Triplett inevitably credits his success to his growing up in the 9th. As for his lack of political experience, “I studied journalism at East Tennessee State College and was a reporter before I joined NASCAR. That was an entirely new field, but I did pretty well because I could adapt to something different and work hard at it. Those are things I learned as a child here, and that’s the spirit I want to bring to Congress.”