SOUTH BOSTON, Va. — Besides nearly hitting a deer on the road outside Rocky Mount, running a red light in Martinsville and being tailed by Republican trackers in Danville and South Boston, the first nine hours of Rep. Tom Perriello’s 24-hour campaign blitz across Virginia’s 5th district Monday went according to plan.
The Democrat started the push at midnight with a group of students at Ferrum College, not far from the North Carolina border. The embattled freshman — atop the list of GOP targets on Election Day — had already made a dozen stops and shaken scores of hands by 9:30 a.m., when he climbed into Eugene Villines’ chair at the Elite Barber Shop in South Boston for a quick trim.
“I’m feeling great,” said Perriello, who still had about 14 more hours to go. “It’s amazing to think that this is when the traditional work day starts and we have already seen students at their study break, ER docs and nurses saving lives, truckers starting for the day.”
Perriello has become one of the most high-profile Democratic freshmen in large part because he stuck by his party on controversial votes such as health care reform, despite hailing from a conservative south-central Virginia district that he won by the narrowest of margins (fewer than 800 votes) in 2008. Now the Congressman’s re-election bid against state Sen. Robert Hurt (R) is not only garnering national attention but international interest. He was joined at around 4:15 a.m. Monday by a camera crew from Japanese Public Television at the dairy farm that he was touring.
On the road leading to the farm, a handful of Hurt staffers and supporters were spotted waving signs, including one that read, “Yet another political stunt by Tom Perriello.”
Perriello is known for occasionally dropping a humorous campaign commercial, but he said Monday’s barnstorming effort was anything but a gimmick.
“I think it’s in some ways just kind of shining a light on how hard the people in this district work. How much they’re struggling,” he said. “The spotlight’s on me whether I like it or not right now. This is a chance to make this about the people in this district and what they’re doing to open a business or expand a business and just live out the American dream.”
Among those who seemed to appreciate Perriello’s efforts Monday morning was Floyd resident Jerry Reed, who was having a grilled cheese and pickle sandwich at Dudley’s Truck Stop Restaurant, when the Congressman sat down at his table to talk about jobs.
“He’s a nice fellow,” said Reed, who said he is generally disgusted by all elections and doesn’t think much of Democrats or Republicans. “It helps a lot to meet a man. A man who comes in at 1 in the morning means business.”
Perriello’s 24-hour tour will end Monday night in Charlottesville, where he’ll watch a football game with students from the University of Virginia after a debate with Independent candidate Jeff Clark, but not Hurt. Hurt has refused to appear at a debate with Clark because he doesn’t think Clark is a legitimate candidate.