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Rep. Scott Rigell: Maverick GOP freshman in the eye of a political storm

Obama is hitting Virginia Beach, Va., Thursday for a reason: It's one of the hottest political ad markets in the country. Its congressman, Scott Rigell, is out to change Washington's 'toxic mix of partisanship, no facts, weak ideas.'

By Staff writer / September 27, 2012

Reps. Scott Rigell (R) of Virginia (second from l.), Buck McKeon (R) of Calif. (l.), and Rob Whittman (R) of Virginia observe operations aboard the Amphibious Assault Ship USS Wasp off the coast of Jacksonville, N.C., in this Feb. 4 file photo.

Steve Helber/AP/File

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Virginia Beach and Norfolk, Va.

When President Obama touches down in Virginia Beach, Va., Thursday morning, he’ll be crossing electoral ground that is both well-traveled and crucial in the race for the White House.

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When Mitt Romney unveiled his vice presidential nominee, he did so just down the road in Norfolk, Va., where Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin walked down the ramp of the USS Wisconsin at an early-morning rally last month. Mr. Obama, for his part, is making his fourth trip to the area since June – on a par with his campaign travel to traditional campaign hot spots such as Miami and Columbus, Ohio.

The Norfolk media market, home to freshman Rep. Scott Rigell (R), has seen more than 21,000 political ads between April and early September, according to an analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project, making it the seventh-hottest ad-buying destination for Obama and Mr. Romney in the entire country.

Amid the political cyclone of being in a battleground district of a battleground state in a close presidential election, Congressman Rigell is worth watching both for what he’s tried to do during his first term in Congress and what he and several dozen like-minded colleagues might achieve in the future.

Elected on the tea party wave of 2010 that brought many hard-line conservatives to Washington, Rigell has proved to be distinctly undoctrinaire. He was one of only two House Republicans to vote against criminal impeachment charges for Attorney General Eric Holder and has renounced a pledge to never raise taxes that is nearly a writ of faith in the GOP. He has taken his own party to task in front of party leadership – among them fellow Virginian and House majority leader Eric Cantor – for a light congressional work schedule he criticizes as short-circuiting one of Congress’s bottom-line responsibilities: passing the 12 appropriations bills needed to fund the government every year.

But just as important, he and some two dozen lawmakers in the House and Senate are also trying to make Congress work. Whether the "Fix Congress Now" caucus that Rigell co-founded can break the gridlock in Washington is still an open question. 

It’s not hard to build the case that Rigell is howling in the wilderness. He’s a backbencher who has promised to serve no more than four terms in office. There’s a shot that he could even be ousted by a talented challenger, venture capitalist-turned-education entrepreneur Paul Hirschbiel (D), before he reaches a sophomore term.

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