Back from Middle East, Perriello will 'consider' running for Senate if Kaine doesn't

By Ben Pershing
Wednesday, February 16, 2011; 3:23 PM

Former Rep. Tom Perriello (D) said Wednesday that he would "consider" running to succeed retiring Virginia Sen. James Webb (D) in 2012, but only if Tim Kaine decides not to enter the race.

In his first interview since Webb announced his decision last week, Perriello said he agreed with other prominent Virginia Democrats in hoping that Kaine -- the former governor and current Democratic National Committee chairman -- would decide to run for Senate. Virginians from both parties are waiting to hear Kaine's decision, even as some Democrats make the case that Perriello should run.

"It's obviously nice when people say that," Perriello said. "I think it's meant to be a compliment. At the same time I join many others in hoping Tim Kaine will step up in this spot. ... He'd be a great choice."

And if Kaine doesn't run, Perriello said: "I will consider it. Part of what I'm asking as a question is whether you can make more of an impact on people's lives from inside the system or outside the system."

Perriello lost his 5th Congressional District seat in November after just one term, and he has been a busy man since leaving office. He was abroad when the Webb news broke, on a six-week trip to the Middle East that included work on Sudanese peace talks as well as a brief but dramatic stop in Egypt during the unrest there.

Before he was elected to Congress in 2008, Perriello worked on international peace and justice issues, spending time in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Afghanistan as well as Darfur. Soon after his House term ended in January, Perriello flew to Qatar to assist a coalition of advocacy groups in the ongoing peace talks there between the Sudanese government and rebel groups. He also visited Nairobi, trying to persuade rebel leaders there to rejoin the talks.

When protests erupted in Egypt against the regime of President Hosni Mubarak, Perriello was asked to help on the ground by the National Democratic Institute, a nonprofit that works to strengthen international democratic institutions. Perriello flew to Cairo but never made it out of the airport. He was detained and interrogated, and after 12 hours was on a plane back out of the country.

Perriello said his interrogators knew he was a former member of Congress, so he never really felt threatened. But it "just showed in the waning days of that regime how scared they were," he said.

Back in Virginia, ex-Sen. George Allen (R) has launched a bid to retake his former seat, and he will face at least one Republican foe. But the Democratic field is frozen until Kaine makes his move. Kaine is expected by some Democrats to make a decision on the race before Saturday's Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner. But the DNC chairman is on a national fundraising trip and won't be back in Virginia until Saturday morning, making it unclear whether he will adhere to that schedule.

"These decisions are more important than a short timeline," Perriello said of Kaine. "He should take the time he needs to decide if he feels called to do this. I wouldn't want him to rush it just because the dinner happens to be this weekend."

While most members of the Democratic establishment, including Sen. Mark Warner (D) and Webb himself, have made it clear that Kaine is their first choice, Perriello is popular in the liberal blogosphere. An enthusiastic "Draft Perriello" movement has begun online.

In addition to Perriello and Kaine, several other Democrats have been mentioned as possible contenders. They include Rep. Gerald Connolly, ex-representative Rick Boucher, 2009 gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, state Sens. Chapman "Chap" Petersen (Fairfax) and A. Donald McEachin (Richmond), State Del. David L. Englin (Alexandria) and a handful of others. Former representative Glenn Nye (D) ruled himself out of the contest last Friday.

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