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It’s Official, Tom Perriello is Running for Governor

It is now official.

Tom Perriello is running for Governor of Virginia. Perriello, the former congressman in the 5th District, posted a video announcement on Facebook, a transcript of which you can read here:

I’m running for Governor because I love Virginia. And for Virginians, we can do better.

From the Blue Ridge to the Bay, this is a Commonwealth of stunning natural beauty and inspiring, resilient communities. Growing up here, we treated our neighbors with respect and believed that everyone should have a fair shot at the education and skills they needed to flourish, regardless of their region, race or religion. This is the Commonwealth that gave my father, who had little more than loving parents, a chance at a great university and the American dream.

But too many families are getting left out of that dream today. Those who once built and grew the things that drove our economy have seen their jobs disappear. Those lucky enough to live near jobs can hardly afford the housing or spend hours away from family fighting traffic or the cable company. We all struggle to balance the demands of work with the need for more time with our families. It just shouldn’t be this hard.

Virginians deserve a system that works for them, but DC lobbyists drew our political maps to benefit their clients instead of our citizens. Too many common sense solutions die at the hands of radical redistricting and powerful special interests. But we can work together to find these solutions, and we can continue to be a firewall against hate, corruption, and an assault on the Virginia values of decency and progress.

The stakes are high. Let’s fight together. Let’s win together.

The announcement sets up a legitimate, high stakes fight for the Democratic nomination for Governor in 2017.  Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam has long been considered the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, and after Attorney General Mark Herring made clear he would run for re-election, Northam’s path seemed clear.

Northam has largely been off the front page since his election in 2013, letting Governor McAuliffe and AG Herring stand in the spotlight, but this reflects Northam’s style as a hands-on, get things done kind of politico – the quintessential workhorse not showhorse of Richmond Democratic politics.  That appears to have left him vulnerable to a candidate with a flashier style.  Since his loss to Robert Hurt during the Tea Party revolution in 2010, Perriello has long been considered somebody who could fit well into Democratic plans for statewide office.  As Bearing Drift Senior Contributor Rick Sincere predicted as early as 2010 – even before Perriello’s ouster from Congress – he was widely viewed as a potential statewide candidate, whether in 2013 or beyond.  His work in the Obama Administration and his ties to the President kept him front of mind as a potential statewide candidate.

That being said, the decision to announce now was still surprising to many, including those in the Democratic establishment, who had little notice that this was even a possibility.  Northam has largely locked up the Democratic establishment who didn’t anticipate a credible alternative to Northam entering the fray, and it will be interesting to see who walks back previous endorsements or support over the coming weeks.

Perriello’s entrance into the race is a mixed bag for Democrats.  Democrats now have the benefit of a real choice for Governor, and a real primary that will force Northam to actually get out and campaign, raise money and do the things he will need to do if he intends to beat the GOP nominee in November.  Soft-spoken Democrats from outside Northern Virginia have not fared well as statewide Democratic candidates in Virginia in recent history, and the last thing Democrats want is a repeat of 2009.  At the same time, Perriello’s closeness to President Obama and his work in the State Department (although not for Hillary Clinton), and his time at the Center for American Progress will leave Republicans salivating to tie him to unpopular figures and foreign policies in the general election.

The tone of Perriello’s announcement sounds strikingly like it was lifted from the Republican – even Donald Trump’s – playbook.  The dig at DC lobbyists drawing district lines (which is obviously not true), and the lamentations about Virginians out of work and being left behind are the kinds of things that propelled Donald Trump to the White House, even though he didn’t win Virginia, and they are exactly the opposite of the rosy picture of the Commonwealth’s economic health that is daily being spread by DPVA and Governor McAuliffe.  Perriello is obviously trying to position himself as the outsider in this race, using grassroots style rhetoric to attack the status quo – not the expected line from a guy running to succeed a fellow Democrat in Richmond.

Perriello is a solid campaigner and fundraiser, and he’s going to be attractive to a wide swath of voters from Northern Virginia through much of the other moderate to liberal sections of Virginia.  That popularity is going to force Northam to figure out how he wants to run and how he wants to message his candidacy, and not simply be everything to everybody until September of next year.  In the best case scenario for Democrats, this race brings out the best in both candidates and whoever wins is stronger going into the general election than he was before.  In the worst case scenario, this race brings out the worst, and devolves into a Clinton/Sanders style fight between the establishment and the grassroots, with Northam playing the role of Hillary Clinton and Perriello doing his best Larry David impression.  If that happens, we could see a repeat of 2009.

For Republicans, the announcement is probably the best thing that could have happened.  First, it creates instant disunity in the Democratic Party, and sets up a difficult fight – something Democrats really haven’t had for a while when it comes to statewide offices.  McAuliffe ran unopposed in 2013, and Creigh Deeds easily defeated both other candidates in 2009 by close to 25%.  Democrats have not had a truly contested Democratic primary for governor in decades.  There’s clearly a lot of bad blood in the party after the national loss in 2016, even if Virginia Democrats can crow that they won the state for Hillary Clinton. Second, it’s important to remember that Republicans have beaten Perriello before in a straight up fight, which isn’t true about Ralph Northam – who has defeated one Republican incumbent and has never lost a race.  Democrats can’t claim Perriello lost in 2010 because of redistricting, because the district was the same one that he won in 2008 on President Obama’s coattails.  He was an energetic supporter of Obamacare, cap and trade and other liberal policies, and it was that support that cost him his job in 2010. Those stances haven’t aged well.  Finally, and most important in my opinion, having a legitimately contested Democratic primary on the same day as the Republican primary will reduce the risk of crossover voting by Democrats, so the expected charges that could fly in GOP nominating fights about Democratic interference will be nullified.  The GOP races will be straight up, decided by Republicans alone.

2017 just got a whole lot more interesting.

  • Dan

    I don’t understand why Sabato was quoted today as saying it’s terrible for Northam or why the VA GOP is so excited about this. I fully expected Northam to get his ass handed to him in the general election (regardless of Virginia’s history of voting against the recently-elected POTUS’s party), primarily because his name recognition is damn near non-existent. He’s Creigh Deeds all over again, but without the benefit of Deeds’s popularity in the western counties.

    Sure, he now has to win two elections instead of just one, but I believe that his chances of winning the general election are now higher than they would’ve been in an uncontested primary. Now Northam will have to start gathering public support much earlier, and will receive additional newspaper/television coverage due to the primary race. He also has a massive fundraising lead over Perriello, along with the endorsements of the sitting Governor and two popular US Senators.

    The Democratic primary is his race to lose, for better or for worse.

    • QRow

      Sorry to say, Northam has zero name
      recognition in the DC suburbs. I´ve met him.
      He´s nice, but doesn´t have much spark.

      • Dan

        You’re proving my point. No one knows him, buy more will hear his name earlier due to the contested primary. If he wins the primary, he’ll be in better shape than he would’ve been otherwise simply because more people will know he exists.

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  • MD Russ

    “…spend hours…fighting…the cable company.” WTF is that all about?

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