The most competitive congressional race in Virginia this fall appears to be getting tighter.
The Washington Examiner has learned that political forecaster Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball plans to downgrade Virginia's 2nd District race from "Likely Republican" to "Leans Republican" -- a sign freshman Republican Rep. Scott Rigell will have a tougher reelection fight than previously expected.
Rigell faces Democrat Paul Hirschbiel, a former business partner of U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who served on several key commissions during Warner's term as governor of Virginia. In recent weeks, Rigell has bucked his party, denouncing tax activist Grover Norquist's infamous pledge not to raise taxes and becoming one of just two House Republicans to vote against holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.
"I think he's trying to cut a more independent image," said Kyle Kondik, who oversees congressional contests for Sabato's Crystal Ball. "I think he's being cautious. He may feel like he's in a little bit of trouble."
No other Virginia race appears on the Crystal Ball's radar, thanks to a new congressional map that favors incumbents. Republicans control eight of the state's 11 districts after picking up three additional seats in 2010.
Both Rigell and Hirschbiel are independently wealthy. As of late May, Rigell had donated $150,000 of the $1.5 million his campaign has raised, while Hirschbiel gave $37,000 to increase his haul to $926,000.
The new makeup of Rigell's district would have split nearly 50-50 between President Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain in the 2008 presidential race, Kondik said. Rigell defeated Democrat Glenn Nye 53 percent to 42 percent in 2010 with a third-party candidate taking nearly 4.5 percent of the vote.
"I still think he's the incumbent and the favorite," Kondik said. "But it's a swingy seat. It's one we're watching."