What’s next for Tom Perriello?

December 7, 2012

When it comes to former Virginia Democratic congressman Tom Perriello, this much is clear: He’s not running for governor next year. What’s lies ahead for the liberal favorite is far less certain. While a return to elected office may one day be in the cards for Perriello, it doesn't appear to be imminent, given the limited opportunities in the commonwealth's near future.


Former congressman Tom Perriello (center) won't run for governor in 2013. But might he pursue another office down the road? (Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)

For his part, though, Perriello seems less interested in pondering his political future than focusing on his current work.  

“I actually think one of the important things for me has been to not try to plan where I might be down the road, but to do what I feel called to do right now,” Perriello told The Fix in an interview.

What he’s doing right now is heading the advocacy arm of the liberal think tank Center For American Progress, a job he landed in late 2011. Perriello said he is content in his position, and called the organization “an amazing place to be.” But his consideration of a 2013 gubernatorial run suggests that he’s at least been thinking about the prospect of running for office again.

Perriello served a single term in Congress, winning a GOP-leaning central Virginia district by a very slim margin (just 727 votes!) over incumbent Democrat-turned-Republican Virgil Goode in the 2008 Democratic wave year.

Through his campaign and his service in the House, Perreillo became a favorite of the left. But he paid a political price in 2010 for his votes on favor of the health-care reform measure, the stimulus package, and the cap and trade energy plan, all spearheaded by Democrats. Now-Rep. Robert Hurt (R) unseated him by four points during the midterm election. 

During his bid for reelection, Perriello didn’t shy away from touting the measures championed by the president that he also supported, even as they grew increasingly unpopular back home. Perriello even campaigned alongside Obama, during a time when many in the president's own party were disinclined to remind voters of their connection to him. 

While Perriello no longer serves in Congress, he enjoys a loyal base of liberal supporters who would be thrilled to see him run for office again. And at just 38, he's still very young. But the question is where, and in what capacity, such an opportunity might arise.

With the 2013 governor’s race off the table, the next high-profile statewide race in the pipeline is the 2014 Senate race. But that’s when popular Sen. Mark Warner (D) would face reelection. Unless Warner steps aside in a surprise move, there won’t be an opportunity for the former congressman there. 

Perriello could try to run for his old congressional seat. But Hurt is coming off two straight wins in a Republican-leaning district.

The former congressman wouldn’t tip his hand, but he suggested an enduring fondness for serving in Congress, even as the legislative body has been seized by gridlock, and its members are considered about as honest as a car salesman by the American public. 

“You miss the idea of representing people in our democratic institutions that are models for the world. And it is an amazing experience, even with the dysfunction that we see today,” Perriello said.

Another option for the Democrat might be a posting somewhere in the Obama administration. When asked, Perriello said he hasn’t been approached about anything, but is open to the idea.

“It’s really exciting to think about what a second term could accomplish,” he said.

For now at least, Perriello appears content in his current position, working on both national issues and those closer to home. 

“I get to work on all the issues I care about, domestic policy and foreign policy," he said. "We get to fight on some of the state level fights that we see in my state of Virginia in terms of trying to limit voting rights and women’s rights and pushing back on that, as well as big ideas about comprehensive tax reform and national security."

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Chris Cillizza · December 7, 2012