HOTSEAT- Nail-biter: Perriello in fight for his life--- again
When Tom Perriello sat in the Hotseat two years ago, he was a political unknown challenging longtime 5th District incumbent Virgil Goode. Conventional wisdom said he didn't stand a chance.
Flash forward two years. Freshman Congressman Tom Perriello is listed as one of the most-vulnerable Democrats in the country, and one poll shows him trailing more than 20 points in a disgruntled district, parts of which boast some of the highest unemployment in the state. Conventional wisdom in some quarters says he doesn't stand a chance.
His own campaign fires back with polls showing a dead heat. Meanwhile, Perriello is doing what he did in 2008: He keeps working.
He's running late the day he has a meeting with a reporter. In the morning, he's in Greene County for a town hall meeting, the 12th of 20 he'll hold this year. Then it's down to CATEC, the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center, to present grants to educators from the Edgar and Eleanor Shannon Foundation. By then, he's behind schedule for a meeting at campaign headquarters on Old Ivy Road, so he has about 10 minutes before heading back up to Greene County again for a meeting with first-responders at their free clinic, "always close to my heart," he says, to talk about healthcare reform.
Since Dems took control of Congress with the election of Barack Obama two years ago, the Tea Party movement has sprung up in an economy that seems excruciatingly slow to recover.
Ask Perriello the biggest difference between this election and the one two years ago. "Not having my dad around," he says, on a personal note. His father, Dr. Vito Perriello, died March 2, 2009.
Certainly perceptions of Perriello have changed since that first race. "In one context, you're judged for what you might do hypothetically," he reflects. "In the second case, you're judged for what you've done. I'm a doer. I prefer situations where I'm judged for what I've done."
And there's plenty of judgment to go around. At a recent appearance by Perriello's Republican challenger, one of state Senator Robert Hurt's supporters lambasted what he calls the three worst pieces of legislation ever: cap and trade, the economic stimulus, and healthcare reform, the latter of which Hurt calls the "Pelosi-Perriello" plan.
Perriello is quick to point out that he's voted with Republicans 67 percent of the time, and he's rated one of the 15 most independent congressman. Not only that, he recently called for the ouster of Obama's treasury secretary, and he scored the coveted-by-conservatives NRA endorsement.
But will all this be enough to sway an angry electorate in a district he won by a mere 727 votes two years ago?
While many other beleaguered incumbents are maintaining low profiles, Perriello continues to hold those town hall meetings, the most of any congressman in the country. Does it get old, the constant refrain from people about how much they dislike what you're doing, often in increasingly personal terms?
"In some ways, I find it much more interesting to talk to the people who are passionate," says the Yale law grad, "even if they don't agree with me, than those who are apathetic."
The biggest surprise during his not-quite-two years in Congress? "The lack of interest from the other side to actually solve problems," says Perriello, specifically mentioning the Senate. "I've been shocked by Republicans on the national level, and pleasantly surprised from Republicans and independents on local levels wanting to solve problems."
Perriello bucks the imperial politician mold. He continues the practice of asking campaign volunteers to tithe 10 percent of their time to charitable endeavours, and he recently spent a day volunteering at the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank.
Since he's been in Washington, "I'm most proud," says Perriello, "of holding onto my integrity in a city that doesn't value integrity." And how often do you hear a politician boast about not taking contributions from lobbyists or corporate PACs?
His campaign dubs him the "hardest working" person in Congress, and they may be right. Ask him if he has time to do anything fun. His response is monosyllabic: "No."
While some of the Hurt-leaning polls have come under fire, Perriello says it's not polls that keep him awake at night.
"When you have the kind of economic crisis we have, it's hard to step away from that," he says. "It's hard to sleep at night with things running through my head that I could have done differently to help people."
Age: 36 on October 9
Why here? Born and raised
What's worst about living here? Thinking each year is the one when UVA football will break big.
Favorite hangout? the James River
Most overrated virtue? Patience
People would be surprised to know: That I'm ranked one of the 15 most independent members of Congress
What would you change about yourself? My diet. PB&J is great, but not for every meal.
Proudest accomplishment? Helping secure broadband access for 59,000 homes and businesses and 120 public schools in Southside Virginia.
People find most annoying about you: Ask the Tea Party.
Whom do you admire ? Bobby Kennedy, who understood there was nothing more liberal or conservative than helping someone get a job.
Favorite book? The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Subject that causes you to rant? Tim Geithner (See also: Larry Summers)
Biggest 21st-century thrill? Complete economic transformation around clean energy. Leaps in technology, farming, transportation and construction that make the industrial revolution look like slow motion.
Biggest 21st-century creep out? The sport of watching celebrity lives unravel.
What do you drive? A 2005 Ford Ranger. Dented but strong.
In your car CD player right now: Campaign mixes from friends, usually a li'l country, and a li'l hip-hop.
Next journey? Somewhere up or down 29. Good times.
Most trouble you've ever gotten in? The time I got suspended as a page for Delegate Mitch Van Yahres for getting caught on the girls' floor.
Regret: Not exercising once I took office. Always easier to stay in shape than to get in shape.
Favorite comfort food: Hot fudge sundaes
Always in your refrigerator: Budweiser and frozen pizzas
Must-see TV: SportsCenter, Friday Night Lights
Describe a perfect day. Any day the Senate actually manages to get something done
Walter Mitty fantasy: Becoming Jason Bourne
Who'd play you in the movie? Matt Damon (see above)
Most embarrassing moment? First photo shoot of the campaign
Best advice you ever got? From my Dad: always remember Judgment Day is more important than election day.
Favorite bumper sticker? Perriello for Congress, of course