A potentially crowded Virginia gubernatorial race has in recent days essentially winnowed down to just two men — Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) and businessman Terry McAuliffe (D). But some Democrats are still hoping for one more entrant: ex-Rep. Tom Perriello.
Perriello, who held the Charlottesville-based 5th congressional district for one term, has been conspicuously silent on the subject of the 2013 contest, and he has not responded to several requests for comment over the last week. But Virginia Democratic operatives said Perriello has quietly approached prominent members of the party in recent weeks to let them know that he is at least considering the idea.
Perriello has been viewed as a potential statewide candidate since the lost his reelection race in 2010. He said in early 2011 that he would consider running for the seat of retiring Sen. James Webb (D) if Timothy M. Kaine chose not to run. (Kaine did run, and won the seat earlier this month.)
At Sen. Mark Warner’s (D-Va.) annual Thanksgiving lunch last week for aides, donors and supporters, much of the buzz among attendees was over whether Perriello would decide to jump into the race, according to a Democrat who was present.
A run by Perriello would shake up a race in which McAuliffe appeared to have a smooth path to the Democratic nomination, following Warner’s announcement last week that he would not seek to return to the governor’s mansion. On the Republican side, the path was cleared for Cuccinelli Wednesday when Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling dropped out of the contest.
McAuliffe has been assiduously building a base of supporters and donors since 2009, when he lost in the gubernatorial primary to state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (Bath). So McAuliffe would have an organizational head start on Perriello, as well as the experience running statewide that Perriello lacks. And Perriello could be viewed by some voters as too liberal to win in a state that has been more hospitable to moderate Democrats like Warner and Kaine.
But Perriello would bring assets of his own to a primary race. Most importantly, he is revered by many liberal activists and could have an easier time firing up the Democratic base than McAuliffe would. He is also known as a tough and tireless campaigner, having wrested the 5th congressional district away from Rep. Virgil Goode, who was then running as a Republican, in 2008.
In 2010, Perriello lost the seat to current Rep. Robert Hurt (R), though his relatively narrow, 51-47 loss in a strong Republican year earned him respect from campaign veterans in both parties. (Perriello’s campaign manager and chief of staff, Lise Clavel, ran President Obama’s much-praised reelection effort in Virginia this year.)
Since his loss, Perriello has remained in the fray. He currently runs the political arm of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress. And he spent significant time this year barnstorming battleground states giving policy-focused presentations aimed at boosting Obama and other Democrats.
Perriello, who worked on international peace and justice issues before his election to Congress, has done more of that work in the last two years, including efforts to facilitate talks between the Sudanese government and rebel groups.