Per­riello says bold is good in first big cam­paign rally

Can­di­date for gov­er­nor de­fends pro­gres­sivism in era of Trump

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - BY FENIT NIRAPPIL fenit.nirappil@wash­post.com

char­lottesville — At the first large rally of his up­start Vir­ginia gu­ber­na­to­rial cam­paign, Tom Per­riello on Fri­day de­fended pro­gres­sivism in the era of Pres­i­dent Trump and of­fered him­self be­fore a packed con­cert hall as the can­di­date rar­ing to fight for lib­eral causes.

Blue­grass bands warmed up the crowd of about 500 be­fore the for­mer Demo­cratic con­gress­man emerged on a stage wear­ing a black blazer and blue jeans, stand­ing in front of a drum set with the­atri­cal smoke curl­ing be­hind him.

His speech quickly turned to the White House in­stead of the gov­er­nor’s man­sion. He said he has seen dem­a­gogues up close as a State Depart­ment en­voy to Africa, and he de­nounced Fri­day’s fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion raids.

Per­riello called the Novem­ber elec­tion a “game changer for me”, in­spir­ing him to jump into the race to try to de­fend pro­gres­sive val­ues. He noted that Trump’s loss in Vir­ginia — the only South­ern state to vote for Hil­lary Clin­ton — was “the worst of any Repub­li­can can­di­date in my life­time.”

“That’s be­cause pro­gres­sive val­ues are Vir­ginia val­ues,” he said. “Pro­gres­sives are a ma­jor­ity of Vir­ginia. Pro­gres­sives are the fu­ture of Vir­ginia.”

Per­riello shocked the Demo­cratic es­tab­lish­ment by de­cid­ing in early Jan­uary to mount a late pri­mary chal­lenge to Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam. Since then, his cam­paign says it raised more than $1.1 mil­lion and has staffed up with veter­ans of Sen. Bernie San­ders’s (I-Vt.) and Clin­ton’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns.

Northam’s cam­paign on Satur­day struck back against Per­riello’s at­tempt to claim the man­tle of pro­gres­sive cham­pion, the first di­rect crit­i­cism lev­eled by ei­ther can­di­date dur­ing the cam­paign for the June Demo­cratic pri­mary.

A spokesman crit­i­cized Per­riello’s con­ser­va­tive stances in Congress — in­clud­ing sup­port­ing a mea­sure to al­low oil and gas drilling off Vir­ginia’s coast, de­fend­ing the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion and vot­ing for an amend­ment to the Af­ford­able Care Act that would have re­stricted fund­ing to in­sur­ance plans that cover abor­tion.

“When it came time to stand up to Big Oil, stare down the NRA or com­mit to be­ing pro­choice, Tom’s bold­ness van­ished,” Northam cam­paign spokesman David Turner said. “Dr. Northam has been stand­ing up for women’s health care, civil rights and gun re­form his en­tire ca­reer, win­ning the fights in Vir­ginia.”

Per­riello now says he is skep­ti­cal of off­shore drilling, calls the NRA a “nut-job ex­trem­ist group” and penned a Face­book post in the first days of his cam­paign apol­o­giz­ing for his vote on the abor­tion amend­ment.

So far, Per­riello has avoided di­rect crit­i­cism of Northam. With­out men­tion­ing his op­po­nent’s name, Per­riello sold him­self as the can­di­date best able to turn out vot­ers anx­ious about Repub­li­can dom­i­na­tion of Wash­ing­ton.

“I’m not scared of a fight,” Per­riello said at the rally. “I’m not scared to be bold, be­cause that’s what our times de­serve.”

Per­riello said ear­lier in the week that he op­poses two planned nat­u­ral-gas pipe­lines in the com­mon­wealth, putting him at odds with Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) but win­ning plau­dits from en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists. His loud­est ap­plause of the night came when he re­it­er­ated that stance.

Char­lottesville is friendly ter­ri­tory for Per­riello, 42. It is the lib­eral bas­tion of the con­ser­va­tive cen­tral and south­ern Vir­ginian con­gres­sional dis­trict he rep­re­sented from 2009 to 2011. Many at­ten­dees said they have been fans of Per­riello since his days in Wash­ing­ton, and one even sported a but­ton from his 2008 cam­paign.

But many lo­cal ac­tivists and of­fice­hold­ers had al­ready en­dorsed Northam, in­clud­ing Char­lottesville Mayor Michael Signer (D), who showed up at the con­cert hall but said he was still back­ing the lieu­tenant gov­er­nor.

Diane Hill­man, a Char­lottesville res­i­dent who re­searches health pol­icy, said a key les­son from the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion was the im­por­tance of turn­ing vot­ers out, and she said Per­riello’s “enor­mous en­ergy” and the di­ver­sity of Fri­day’s crowd boded well on that front.

“I was shocked to see how many peo­ple un­der 40 are here,” said Hill­man, 68, who said she’s a fix­ture at lo­cal po­lit­i­cal ral­lies. “A lot of time it’s the same old peo­ple my age.”

In in­ter­views, at­ten­dees who paid $50 to get in said they would be happy with ei­ther Northam or Per­riello as their party’s nom­i­nee. But they said they pre­ferred the new­comer’s force­ful style for the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment, and were will­ing to for­give Per­riello’s past con­ser­va­tive stances such as his op­po­si­tion in Congress to an as­sault weapons ban.

“Tom has more en­ergy and pas­sion,” said Kathryn Laughon, a 52-year-old Char­lottesville nurse. “Have you heard Ralph speak? It’s just not what he does. He’s a good man, he’s a smart man, his pol­icy is sound. I just don’t think he in­spires the pas­sion that Tom does.”

Per­riello ended his speech with a rous­ing ap­peal to re­ject Trump by sup­port­ing his cam­paign.

“This year, the first chance to de­feat Don­ald Trump is in this elec­tion here in Vir­ginia,” he said.

“The first chance to de­feat Don­ald Trump is in this elec­tion here in Vir­ginia.” Gu­ber­na­to­rial hope­ful Tom Per­riello, wrap­ping up a re­cent cam­paign speech

STEVE HELBER/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Tom Per­riello is a Demo­cratic can­di­date for gov­er­nor of Vir­ginia. “Pro­gres­sive val­ues are Vir­ginia val­ues,” the for­mer con­gress­man said dur­ing a cam­paign rally in Char­lottesville late last week.

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