It was the day of the 2007 elections, but Tom Perriello was working to win votes for 2008. "Wherever people are suffering, we can do better," he said on November 6 to a group of 25 seniors in the back of the Pantops Ponderosa. In between campaigning for State Senate candidate Connie Brennan, he was explaining the philosophy that has commanded him throughout his international work. Many in the room wore stickers saying they had already voted. If Perriello is fortunate, they will be voting for him this time next year as he tries to unseat Virgil Goode.
He’s young, reasonably attractive and a Yale grad who can’t stop talking about foreign tragedies like the Sudan. But can Tom Perriello, left, beat U.S. Representative Virgil Goode in the Southside of Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District?
|More election features:
One seat could make all the difference
PAC-men pump coins into local races
Democrats retake the state Senate
Challenging Dems for City Council: a fool’s errand?
Coloring in the constitutional races
Creigh Deeds or Daffy Duck?
Quoth the voter
How low can you go?
Video from election night
At only 33 years of age, Tom Perriello has an impressive resumé. He went to Yale Law, has helped start eight nonprofits, and worked in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and the Sudan to resolve crises there. He also wants Virginia’s Fifth District congressional seat, which Goode has held for 11 years. In the last two elections, Democrat Al Weed has unsuccessfully challenged Goode, a candidate with strong support in the south of the oddly shaped district that is the size of New Jersey.
Perriello must first tie up the Democratic nomination, to be decided next May. Currently, two others—David Shreve and Brydon Jackson—have declared their interests in running against Goode. But Perriello is off to a fast start, having raised over $100,000 in the third quarter of 2007. Most of that has been done through small, personal meetings like the one at Ponderosa, where Perriello’s earnest world experience translates to a political message of change with a sprig of hope.
"As I come back to the United States I’m struck increasingly that what’s wrong in the United States goes much deeper than the fact that our health care system is broken or people in the Southside are losing jobs," he said, stopping to clarify that those jobs are in fact important. He then moved on to his larger point. "There’s a deeper sense in the United States that we’ve lost a sense of the common good," he said, "a sense that we’re in this together."
With that, he delivered what seems to be his main contention, that American society has lost its sense of commitment to one another, and that to make real change—the kind that is invoked over and over—we must all band together. It is a positive message ultimately, not unlike Barack Obama’s, and while it will undoubtedly play to an affluent, activist community like Charlottesville, it will be interesting to see its effects in the Southside, where Goode’s constant appeals to a fear of illegal immigration seem to have worked.
Compared to candidates in other races, of course, Perriello is late to the game. Presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have made recent stops in Charlottesville, to fundraise and perhaps to try and win over Virginia to the Democratic column for the first time since 1964. And while Perriello’s $100,000 is impressive, former governor Mark Warner was able to pull in over $1 million in less than a month for his bid for the U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by John Warner. Although another former governor, Jim Gilmore, is likely to seek the Republican nomination, a recent Washington Post poll showed Warner with a 30 percent lead over several possible challengers.
Residents of Albemarle County can take pause and reflect on last week’s local elections…but not for too long. As Keith Drake, chair of the county Republican Party, reminded weary supporters at Club Rivals as the election night party was winding down: "There are 364 days left before election day."