Republican H. Morgan Griffith unseated Boucher primarily on the claim that Boucher was doing Obama's bidding on the so-called "cap-and-trade" legislation that would statutorily limit power plant gas emissions. Boucher actually helped shape and advance the bill at the behest of large utilities which saw the measure as preferable to regulations the Environmental Protection Agency would impose on them by administrative fiat. Those utilities were among Boucher's largest campaign donors in 2010.
The bill died in the Senate where Democrats couldn't overcome a GOP filibuster. But that didn't stop Griffith and allied conservative groups such as Americans for Prosperity from hammering Boucher over the bill, something he couldn't explain away in a 30-second television ad.
"What people don't understand is that down there, coal is a way of life, not just an energy source," said Christopher J. LaCivita, a veteran national Republican campaign strategist who lives in Virginia. "What you're doing down there when you attack coal is you're rejecting an entire culture, people who've raised their families on coal."
The Romney campaign ads exploit exactly those sentiments. They are poignant and personal, featuring miners and coal families telling wrenching personal stories of how coal's decline is their decline.
But how damaging is that to Obama? He's never done well in the Fightin' Ninth and had no hope of it this year. Sen. John McCain beat him handily there in the 2008 general election, but Obama became the first Democrat to win Virginia in a presidential race since 1964.
Steve Jarding of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, a former campaign adviser to Virginia Democrats Mark R. Warner and Jim Webb, said the mine closures and even the broader decline of coal have little currency outside a district Obama had written off anyway.
"You always feel bad for those people, but it's not going to matter that much because the people who would vote against him on that issue already long ago took sides," Jarding said. "And outside of the district, it's just not a burning issue."
LaCivita said mine closures aren't personal and emotional to people elsewhere in Virginia.
"It will resonate some among people who are concerned that their country does not have a comprehensive and multidimensional energy policy," he said. "Anyone who cares about energy prices and keeping them affordable should care that a major portion of America's energy assets is being taken away by this administration."