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Battleground Bristol

Rosalind Helderman

Residents of Bristol, Va. should be feeling pretty popular these days.

The small city on the Tennessee border is the place President Obama came to kick off his general election campaign last June. Then Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele made a special stop there in May to campaign with Virginia gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell. And today Obama is returning to Bristol, to hold a town hall meeting to push health care reform.

Bristol, a place with high unemployment and easy access to the tri-city media market, is a good place for politicians looking to address the issues of depressed rural communities. For today, it's also conveniently close to Raleigh, North Carolina where Obama was making an earlier stop to pitch his reform package as a way to protect Americans from corporate insurance companies.

But in a call with reporters sponsored by the RNC this afternoon, former Virginia attorney general and unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore expressed surprise Obama would pick his home region to make a health care pitch.

"He lost it pretty bad," Kilgore said.

Kilgore said there may be another reason Obama might have chosen Bristol: "To shore up the support of Congressman Boucher on this health care plan," he suggested

Rick Boucher is the southwestern Virginia Democrat who has represented the area in Congress since 1982. Kilgore's brother, Del. Terry G. Kilgore (R-Scott), has been rumored to be contemplating challenging Boucher for the seat. It's a notion Jerry Kilgore did not rule out today.

"I know a lot of people have encouraged him to run for Congress next year. We'll just have to wait and see what his decision is," he said.

While he was at it, Kilgore knocked Obama's healthcare proposals as a government takeover of medicine and Democratic gubernatorial candidate state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds for not appearing with Obama in Bristol.

"He needs to come out of hiding, stand with his president and take a position on these important issues," Kilgore said.

Kilgore got the same kind of barbs leveled at him four years ago, when he was a no show at a Norfolk speech on terrorism delivered a month before Election Day by his party's president, George Bush. At the time, Democrats said Kilgore was afraid to be seen with the president, whose poll numbers were dropping.

But Republicans at the time said his absence was not surprising since Bush was giving a policy speech. That's the same argument now made by Deeds for campaigning with Obama but skipping his Virginia health care events. Bush campaigned for Kilgore on the eve of the November election.

Deeds' spokesman Jared Leopold responded to Kilgore's comments, "Mr. Kilgore knows today's stop was an official event, but we are happy to give the former Attorney General a ticket to join the President when he comes to Virginia next week to campaign with Creigh. But it seems like Mr. Kilgore and Bob McDonnell are too busy talking about how great the Bush economic policies have been for Virginia."

By Rosalind Helderman  |  July 29, 2009; 2:12 PM ET
Categories:  2009 Governor's Race , Barack Obama , Creigh Deeds , Election 2009 , Election 2010 , Robert F. McDonnell , Rosalind Helderman  
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