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Opinion Tom Perriello campaign: Fool’s errand or a winning pitch?

Former Virginia congressman Tom Perriello speaks to the crowd at a rally in Charlottesville announcing his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for governor of Virginia. (Steve Helber/Associated Press)
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Tom Perriello’s campaign for Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial nomination might strike some as a fool’s errand.

The one-term congressman and former U.S. Special Envoy cannot boast of the same statewide political resume as his opponent, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam. Nor can Perriello count on the support of many of the state’s top Democrats, who lined up behind Northam when it appeared as though he would be unchallenged for the nomination.

But rank-and-file Democrats may not care about such niceties as endorsements and money.

Instead, they just might do what Republicans did in the course of the 2016 presidential race and turn their hopes — and votes — to a candidate who is closer to their hearts.

Perriello has already established that his campaign will be addressed to Virginia’s version of the “forgotten man.”

In his campaign announcement, posted to his Facebook page, Perriello said “too many families are getting left out of [the American] dream today.”

“Those who once built and grew the things that drove our economy have seen their jobs disappear,” Perriello said. “Those lucky enough to live near jobs can hardly afford the housing or spend hours away from family fighting traffic or the cable company.”

“We all struggle to balance the demands of work with the need for more time with our families,” he said. “It just shouldn’t be this hard.”

Life is hard. Tom wants to make it easier. It sounds so simple, almost trite. But it’s the same sort of message Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and, yes, President-elect Donald Trump used during the recent presidential fracas.

Trump blamed the political class and its self-dealing ways for America’s funk. It struck a deep, winning chord.

Perriello cast the blame on “DC lobbyists” who “drew our political maps to benefit their clients instead of our citizens.”

In other words, gerrymandering – not exactly the kind of idea that rallies people to the barricades or the voting booth. But framed as a fight against unnamed powers bent on serving themselves, it works. Not perfectly, but better.

Perriello followed up his announcement with anther Facebook post, this one a video of him addressing the camera with a pock-marked Danville factory in the background.

He spoke of the downside of globalization, which, for towns like Danville and others dotted across Southside Virginia, has been a disaster.

But Perriello went further, warning that computers and other advancing technologies will pose similar downside risks to others, regardless of their education.

He promised the creation of an “inclusive economy.”  Which sounds harmless enough.

But his kicker, and the message that may just make him a genuine alternative to Northam, was this:

“Virginians don’t care whether you’re from the left or right, it’s about whether you’re helping them move up or down.”

In a Monday press release announcing the formal launch of his campaign, presumptive GOP frontrunner Ed Gillespie said it was all old hat.

“Our economy’s been stuck in neutral under the McAuliffe-Northam administration,” Gillespie said, “and it will stay stuck if Ralph Northam or Tom Perriello are elected to continue the failed policies of higher taxes, more regulation and expanding Obamacare.”

Gillespie may be right. But his response comes across as a politician checking boxes, rather than a candidate seeking to connect with voters.

Tom Perriello will check boxes, too.

But he’s also done something that only one other Virginia gubernatorial candidate (Republican Corey Stewart) has even attempted: pitch to the folks left behind, those who are struggling and those who don’t care about restrictions on public lavatories but do worry about jobs and the future.

That gives Perriello the advantage over Ralph Northam – and most of the declared GOP candidates.

It might even be enough to carry him to victory.

Norman Leahy is a political reporter for the American Media Institute and producer of the Score radio show.

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