By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 29, 2010; 9:53 PM
CHARLOTTESVILLE - President Obama made his first campaign stop this fall on behalf of an individual House member Friday night, a direct appeal to young voters and African Americans in this college town to cast their ballots for freshman Rep. Tom Perriello.
Speaking before a crowd of about 10,000, some huddled in blankets against the crisp night, Obama portrayed Perriello as a congressman who had made courageous decisions in Washington even when he knew they would not be popular in his Republican-leaning district.
"I'm not here because Tom votes with me on every issue. Sometimes he disagrees with me,'' Obama said. "He didn't go to Washington to do what was easy or do what was popular. He went to do what was right."
The boisterous gathering on the historic Downtown Mall responded to the president by waving blue Perriello signs and occasionally chanting, "Go, Tom, go."
Perriello's rival, state Sen. Robert Hurt, has accused the congressman of being in lockstep with Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi by voting for their signature issues - health-care reform, emissions limits and government bailouts that he said could cost the region 11,000 jobs.
"I think the White House, the president, recognizes that his favorite congressman is in trouble and he's coming down to lend a hand in an effort to energize a base that heretofore has not been energized,'' Hurt told reporters earlier Friday. "It's clearly payback for being a loyal foot soldier for the Pelosi-Obama agenda."
But Perriello portrayed himself as an independent voice who bucked his party on bailout money for Wall Street, gun control and free-trade agreements.
"The president and I agree on some issues and disagree on some others, but I have made sure that he doesn't forget about towns like Danville, Martinsville and Charlottesville," Perriello told the crowd.
Friday night's rally was considered a bit of a gamble for Perriello. He's eager to energize support in Charlottesville, home to the University of Virginia and a Democratic stronghold, but he doesn't want to turn off voters elsewhere in the conservative region who have grown angry at Washington.
"The president is a huge draw,'' said Stacy Stunes, who lives outside Charlottesville and arrived at the rally wearing a pink Hot Chicks Dig Obama button. "Some people might look at him as a liability, but I support most of his policies, so I think having him here will help."
The anti-Washington mood over much of the country has given Republicans a chance to take back the House and pick up four seats in Virginia.
The state's sprawling 5th Congressional District, which stretches north of Charlottesville to the North Carolina border, is seen by both parties as one of the nation's most competitive battlegrounds.
Perriello remains neck-and-neck with Hurt just ahead of the election, a development that has cheered Democrats nationwide even as they worry about how other vulnerable incumbents will fare next week.
Obama has made a point recently of highlighting Perriello - talking up the freshman during a October rally in Washington and again this week before a national audience on "The Daily Show."
Perriello became a target even before he took office. He defeated Republican Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr. by 727 votes, one of the closest House races in the nation, after enthusiasm for Obama in 2008 boosted turnout among African Americans and young voters in the Charlottesville area.
"Two years ago we defied the pundits,'' Perriello told the crowd. "Let me tell you something, we're not done yet."