Pentagon cuts spark war of words between Nye, Rigell in 2nd district race
Updated 3:40 p.m.
The Pentagon's decision to close the U.S. Joint Forces Command in Norfolk has quickly become the latest flashpoint in the area's hotly-contested House race, as freshman Rep. Glenn Nye (D) and his Republican challenger trade barbs over the move.
The closure of the JFC would have big economic consequences for the 2nd congressional district, which includes most of the Hampton Roads region and has a huge military presence. Nye joined Virginia politicians from both parties Monday at a press conference in Norfolk to decry the move and pledge to fight it. But that wasn't good enough for auto dealer Scott Rigell (R), who is running to oust Nye from his seat by arguing that the freshman has been an ineffective protector of the region's interests in Congress.
Within hours of the news, Rigell's campaign issued a press release claiming the planned closure was "a direct reflection of Glenn Nye's lack of leadership."
"Once again, our region is on the verge of losing a major military asset, and our freshman incumbent has done little to stop such a move," Rigell said.
Rigell and his fellow Republicans had already sought to blame Nye for another Defense Department decision before Monday's announcement. The Pentagon announced in February as part of its Quadrennial Defense Review that it planned to move one of the five nuclear-powered aircraft carriers currently based in Norfolk to Mayport, Fla. (Though the original idea for the move predates Nye's time in Congress.) As with the closure of JFC, the move of a carrier -- currently slated for 2019 -- would cost the region thousands of jobs.
In February, months before Rigell won the GOP primary, he accused Nye of being "completely ineffective and largely silent on the issue" of the carrier move.
But Nye has pushed back hard. He inserted a provision into the defense authorization bill for 2011 that would block funding for moving a carrier to Florida. (The bill has passed the House and now awaits action in the Senate.) Nye's campaign is touting a letter he received in June from Gov. Robert McDonnell (R) thanking Nye for his "leadership on behalf of the Commonwealth of Virginia" on the carrier issue.
And in an interview Tuesday, Nye said his opponent's response to the JFC announcement was "indicative of the difference between our leadership styles," as Rigell complained from the sidelines while Nye sought to work with Virginia Republicans to stop the change from happening.
"He's playing politics with the issue and declaring defeat before we've even had the fight," Nye said, adding: "The way you win on issues is to form bipartisan coalitions."
Word of the Pentagon's plans to close the JFC came directly from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, so it is unclear whether any freshman lawmaker from either party could have stopped it from happening. Virginia's statewide clout with the military has also diminished somewhat since Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner (R) retired.
Maren Leed, an expert on defense issues at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Gates was not known for having "close relationships with Congress" or letting lawmakers have a significant impact on his decisionmaking.
"It is unlikely that any one member would have had much of an impact on any of these decisions," Leed said.
August 10, 2010; 2:45 PM ET
Categories: 2010 Virginia Congressional Races , Ben Pershing , Election 2010 , Glenn Nye , Scott Rigell
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