Virginia's 9th Congressional District
Updated at 1:45 p.m. with information clarifying that Justin Higgins’ Fightin’ 9th PAC is different from Congressman Morgan Griffith’s Fightin’ Ninth PAC.
Updated again at 6 p.m. with Morgan Griffith’s thoughts on the origin of “The Fighting Ninth” name.
Updated again at 9 p.m. with news that Higgins has dismantled his Fightin’ 9th PAC.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United ruling — and more importantly the Speechnow.org v. Federal Election Commission appeals court ruling — opened the gate for a flood of so-called “Super PACs,” which are political committees that supposedly operate independent of campaigns and which can accept unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations, and unions.
Certainly some of these super PACs are behemoths that can pump millions of dollars of advertising and perhaps tilt the outcome of a given race. On the other hand, the relative ease of creating a super PAC has given rise to hundreds of new groups, including at least one that might be best described as a comedy super PAC.
One of the newest in western Virginia is the Fightin’ 9th PAC, which according to founder Justin Higgins was created to “boost Republican turnout in Virginia’s 9th Congressional District.” (Quick sidebar: My search for the Fightin’ 9th PAC on opensecrets.org also led me to U.S. Sen. Jim Webb’s Born Fighting PAC and the Ultimate Fighting Championship PAC.)
UPDATE: Higgins’ Fightin’ 9th super PAC is not to be confused with the Fightin’ Ninth PAC, a committee linked with 9th District Congressman Morgan Griffith, R-Salem.
UPDATE NO. 2: Higgins in fact has dismantled his PAC. After filing papers with the Federal Election Commission and sending out news releases, he learned of its similarity to the Griffith PAC and shut it down.
On our side, I probably should have checked with Higgins before going live with the post. I interviewed him a week or two back but held off on a post until the Fightin’ 9th PAC showed up in a search on opensecrets.org. Lessons learned all around, I guess.
Higgins is a 22-year-old political operative who worked on ballot issues in Ohio before moving to Blacksburg last year. He points out that President Barack Obama ran worse in the 9th District four years ago than any other in Virginia.
“But 9th turnout was only 68.5 percent,” Higgins said. “In the 6th, you had 73 percent turnout. So the 6th turned out more people” for Republican John McCain.
Higgins said he’s targeting “donors who want their money spent in the 9th” to raise money. On the flipside, he anticipates the PAC will spend most of its cash on mailers and get-out-the-vote grassroots activities.
So will the new Fightin’ Ninth super PAC become a powerhouse or a smaller political entity? That, as the cliche goes, remains to be seen.
After the jump you can read the full news release announcing the Fightin’ 9th PAC.
Now, about that term: The Fighting Ninth. Where did it originate?
I heard the term occasionally while growing up in the Alleghany Highlands. Ironically, the region was *not* part of the 9th District when I grew up there in the ’80s and ’90s, but due to redistricting much of that area now *is* included in the 9th.
Higgins told me he became familiar with the term shortly after beginning to travel here.
“When I started coming down here, everybody, especially in Republican circles but I’m sure in Democratic circles, is just in love with the name Fighting Ninth,” Higgins said. “I’ve heard it attached to Congressman [William] Wampler a lot, him using it a lot. That’s why Republicans are attached to it. I love the energy of it.”
Of course the name isn’t unique to Southwest Virginia, as it’s also attached to a New York City police precinct and the Irish-dominated 9th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.
Harvie Wilkinson uses the term in his epochal history of mid-20th Century Virginia politics, “Harry Byrd and the Changing Face of Virginia Politics, 145-1966.” He associates the district with a spirit of independence and a willingness to split with the Byrd Machine on a regular basis.
Wilkinson links that spirit with the district’s hardscrabble history:
The “Fightin’ Ninth” had long been inhabited by poor but rugged mountaineers who declined to leave their native valleys and ridges for jobs in more prosperous urban centers. The highlanders of the Ninth had historically been a rebellious lot: even before the Civil War they were grumbling at the control more genteel and prosperous eastern planters had over state policy. “THere’s still a frontier swing to the walk, and the thought in Southwest Virginia,” wrote [newspaper columnist Guy] Friddell in 1966. “The shade of Daniel Boone lingers there.” [V.O.] Key mentions “an ineradicable residue of history … in the rebelliousness of hte people of the southwestern mountain counties,” explaining how, throughout the South, “the voters of the highlands tend to respond when the interests and powers-that-be are baited.”
UPDATE: We also asked Griffith. Here’s his response:
“What I have always heard is that it’s because, even when Democrats controlled everything, every now and then a Republican would get elected. It was a constant back-and-forth battle over mainly Congress, but also House of Delegate and state Senate seats. At one time there was no Republican Party [in Virginia] outside the Mountain-Valley Republicans, who resided mostly in the 9th — some in the 6th but mostly in the 9th.”
One more aside: While reporting about the issue of coal in the 2010 race between Rick Boucher and Morgan Griffith, I randomly came across a flea market in Wise County where I stopped and talking to potential voters about the race — but also came across a 1984 “Fightin Ninth” belt buckle that now resides among my collection of politics-related trinkets.
As always, readers, we’re interested in your thoughts and comments. Do you see the new Fightin’ 9th Super PAC making a difference in the congressional, senate or presidential race this fall? And if you have your own stories about that “Fighting Ninth” term, please share them in the comments below.
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– Mason Adams
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