Ex-rep. Perriello might run for U.S. Senate in Va. if Kaine doesn't

Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) has decided he will not run again, giving Republicans an opportunity to take a Senate seat in a traditionally red state.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 16, 2011; 9:21 PM

Former U.S. representative Tom Perriello said Wednesday that he would consider running to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. James Webb in 2012, but only if Timothy M. Kaine decides not to make the race in Virginia.

In his first interview since Webb announced his decision last week, Perriello said he, like other prominent Virginia Democrats, hopes that Kaine - the former governor and current Democratic National Committee chairman - would decide to run for Senate. Virginians from both parties are awaiting 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 the 5th Congressional District seat in November after just one term, and he has been busy 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 and 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 peace talks there between the Sudanese government and rebel groups. He also visited Nairobi, trying to persuade Sudanese rebel leaders there to rejoin the talks.

When protests erupted in Egypt against the government of President Hosni Mubarak, Perriello was asked to help by the National Democratic Institute, a nonprofit group 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, he was on a plane back out of the country.

Perriello said his interrogators knew that 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.

George Allen (R) has launched a bid to retake his former Senate seat, and he will face at least one Republican rival. But the Democratic field appears 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.

Although most members of the Democratic establishment, including Sen. Mark R. 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 E. Connolly, former representative Rick Boucher, 2009 gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, state Sens. J. 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 Friday.

Perriello made his first foray into elected politics in 2008, when he unseated Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr. (R) by 727 votes after a hard-fought campaign. Perriello and other Democrats statewide benefited from having President Obama at the top of the ticket, but Perriello outperformed Obama in the 5th District: He won with 50 percent of the vote; Obama took 48 percent and lost the district to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

In 2010, Perriello fell to Republican Robert Hurt. But Perriello put up a fight, losing by just 4 points even as another freshman Democrat, Nye, was losing by 11 points. Turnout in the 5th District - which extends from the Charlottesville area to the North Carolina border - was the highest in the state, which appeared partly attributable to the enthusiasm of Perriello supporters in a year when Democrats in many places were more likely to stay home.

Perriello said he doesn't believe that there's any one formula for a winning Democratic campaign in Virginia.

"I think pundits often overthink the 'profiles,' " he said. "I think voters are often smart enough to have a gut reaction to the candidates, to say, 'Here's a guy who shares my values and can get things done.' "

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