Skip to content

Goode Race Could Be Election Surprise

DANVILLE, Va. — When Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) finally took the stage to roaring applause from 500 supporters at the Danville Community Market on Friday, he picked up right where 5th district Congressional candidate Tom Perriello (D) left off, hammering Republicans for policies that led to the nation’s current economic crisis.

The rally in Danville was well-timed. This week, the city is set to demolish a condemned portion of the now-defunct Long Mill textile plant, which for decades was at the heart of the town’s textile industry and a major employer for Danville residents. The mill closed down in the mid-1990s, and plans to turn the site into a new shopping and residential center never materialized.

Perriello’s camp views the mill as a symbol of the economic decline that Southside Virginia has experienced under Rep. Virgil Goode (R) and an example of why new leadership, focused on reviving small businesses, is needed in the 5th district.

That message has caught fire. Now, Perriello — a 34-year old attorney who was a political unknown when he entered the race — could be the surprise of the commonwealth on election night.

If he wins, it will be a sign that the Democratic wave on Election Day has turned into a flood.

Polls taken just two months ago showed the six-term Congressman ahead by more than 30 points in this conservative south-central Virginia district. Perriello’s internal polling, taken in mid-October, showed him just 6 points behind.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sees an opportunity in the district. The committee has spent $325,000 in independent expenditures in recent weeks on the race, most of it going to fund TV ads. By comparison, Perriello’s entire media budget for the cycle is about $750,000.

As of last week, the DCCC began buying time in the Richmond media market, which covers about 15 percent of the district. It was an area that Perriello’s campaign had already deemed too expensive to play in on television, and the campaign had planned to cover the territory with mailings and field operations.

Perriello is also expected to benefit from a Democratic presidential campaign that has made Virginia a priority this cycle. That could be especially important because Sen. Barack Obama’s (Ill.) presence on the ticket is expected to boost voter turnout among the district’s 24 percent black population. Perriello’s latest polling numbers conservatively estimated that black voters would make up 18 percent of the electorate on Election Day, leaving plenty of room for growth.

“He’s young, he’s energetic, he can raise money and this is the right time,” Joyce Glaise, a former Danville City Council member, said as she headed into the Biden rally on Friday.

But another Democratic supporter noted as she was waiting in line that the 5th district “is very Republican, so it’s going to take a lot.”

The 5th district voted for President Bush by double-digit margins in 2000 and 2004, and Goode’s worst performance in six elections came in 2006 when he beat Democrat Al Weed by a very comfortable 19-point margin.

Goode does his own press and prides himself for being “hands-on” when it comes to constituent issues.

That trait — not to mention his pronounced southwestern Virginia drawl — has made it very hard for any Democrat to argue that Goode has “gone Washington” during his time on Capitol Hill.

But Goode’s hands-on approach in almost every aspect of his campaign has also been criticized by some Republicans, who say it isn’t a feasible way to run a modern campaign.

One Virginia Republican consultant argued Monday that Goode runs “a 19th-century campaign in the 21st century” and that it allowed an unknown candidate to establish himself and become credible in a contest that should have been a slam-dunk for Goode.

“At the end of the day, does Virgil lose? No. He’s too well-known. But at some point in time, this election ought to serve as a wake-up call” for how Goode runs his campaigns, the consultant said.

As the race has narrowed in recent weeks, Goode’s response has been to paint Perriello as a liberal lawyer whose political philosophy doesn’t fit with the conservative values of the district.

Perriello was raised in Albemarle County, which is home to the liberal bastion of Charlottesville, and he earned his law degree in Connecticut at Yale University. After school, he worked for a nonprofit organization in New York.

At the Biden campaign event on Friday, a Republican staging a one-man counter-rally called Perriello “a liberal carpetbagger.”

“He left here to go to New York to become a lawyer,” said Elmer Woodard, himself a lawyer in Danville. “If he was so concerned about us, why did he leave here in the first place?”

Goode said Perriello’s law school and New York connections are what gave him the ability to raise a staggering $1.5 million as of Oct. 15. Goode has raised $1.49 million this cycle. In 2006, Weed raised less than $600,000 when he challenged Goode.

“The New York money and the California money has allowed him to attract more DCCC money,” Goode said on Monday.

According to campaign finance information complied by CQ MoneyLine, Perriello has brought in just under $200,000 from New York and just over $100,000 from donors in California.

“You have to be fearful of someone like him who is New York slick,” Goode said.

Goode noted that Perriello has made much of his promise this cycle not to take donations from corporate political action committees but “corporate PACs give money to [Rep.] Charlie Rangel [D-N.Y.] and Charlie Rangel gives to him.”

Goode argues that Perriello is playing loose with the truth when he blames Goode for the region’s job losses.

“We’ve lost manufacturing jobs because of free-trade agreements,” Goode said. He said that what workers in Southside Virginia really needed in recent years was more Members of Congress voting against free-trade agreements.

But Perriello told the crowd at Friday’s rally that it’s Goode who likes to twist the truth, especially when he’s scared of losing. He cited a recent television commercial with a picture of the Democrat that Perriello says was darkened and altered in order to make him appear more sinister.

“From one side we have a politics of fear. A politics of trying to survive by convincing people just how scary the alternative is instead of offering a plan for change,” Perriello told the crowd. “We’ve seen it from my opponent, Congressman Goode. … I tell you this: The 10,000 jobs we’ve lost during Congressman Goode’s time is a lot scarier than that picture.”

Recent Stories

Fiscal 2024 spending finale starts to take shape

Security fence to go up at Capitol for State of the Union

California has no shortage of key House races on Tuesday

Alabama, Arkansas races to watch on Super Tuesday

Over the Hill — Congressional Hits and Misses

House GOP reverses course on Jan. 6 footage, will no longer blur faces