President Barack Obama made his second campaign appearance in Charlottesville in two years today, speaking to a crowd of about 6,500 people at the nTelos Wireless Pavilion after turning down an offer to use the John Paul Jones Arena by the University of Virginia. As I explained yesterday on WINA-AM radio, the Obama campaign knew it could not fill the arena and the optics of the President speaking to thousands of empty seats would not serve him well.
As late as Monday, it looked like Obama would not even be able to fill the Pavilion, when the campaign sheepishly announced that it not been able to distribute 3,500 free tickets that had been made available. In the event, however, more people decided to attend and an overflow venue was provided at the Paramount theater so that they could watch the speeches on a big-screen TV.
The program included Obama, whose theme was “you made it happen” — an attempt to take back his “You didn’t build that” comment in Roanoke a few weeks ago — as well as former Governor Tim Kaine, now a candidate for the U.S. Senate, and former Fifth District Congressman Tom Perriello, both of whom were acknowledged by President Obama in his remarks.
Who was missing? Current Fifth District congressional candidate John Douglass. He did not speak, and he apparently was not even available for a photo opportunity with the Chief Executive.
It’s possible that Douglass was not invited because he may turn out to be a drag on the ticket. According to internal polling data released today by incumbent Congressman Robert Hurt’s campaign, Douglass is trailing Hurt (R-Chatham) by 18 points. (The poll was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies.)
It’s also possible that the Obama administration wants to boost Perriello’s career. Perriello, readers may recall, won election in 2008 narrowly over former Congressman Virgil Goode (now the Constitution Party’s presidential candidate, after serving in the General Assembly as a Democrat and in Congress as a Democrat, independent, and Republican) — in fact, it was the closest congressional race in the country that year and ended up being decided in a recount.
Perriello served one term before being displaced by Hurt by a wider margin in 2010 — a good year for Republicans in Congress — than Perriello had in 2008.
I think that Perriello is being groomed for statewide office, perhaps as early as 2013. He’s a very attractive candidate in many ways: young, intelligent, talented, with a law degree and foreign-policy experience in war zones like Afghanistan and Sierra Leone. Regardless of what one thinks of his policy positions — and his votes for Obamacare and cap-and-trade likely doomed his re-election chances in 2010 — he would be a strong contender for lieutenant governor or attorney general next year, and for governor in 2017 or later. (Gen-Xer Perriello turns 40 years old in 2014.)
I suspect Perriello, as a lawyer, will first run for Attorney General. That job is being vacated by Ken Cuccinelli, who is seeking the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination, and the Democratic nomination may be Perriello’s to claim (although Delegate Mark Herring has also indicated interest in the post). And in Virginia, state Attorney General is virtually always a stepping-stone to running for Governor.
As for the septuagenarian Douglass — the no-show at today’s “hope and change” rally — his career in electoral politics has ended even before it begins. It looks like the party leadership recognizes that he is, at best, the Fifth District’s sacrificial lamb for 2012.