Former congressman Tom Perriello, who lost the Democratic nomination for governor last year but went on to help his party win seats in the House of Delegates, is forming a new political action committee to boost progressive candidates.
Called New Virginia Way, the PAC will focus on getting those progressive delegates reelected in 2019 and on helping them gain ground in the legislature, Perriello said.
"Some people mistakenly think of 2017 as a wave election instead of a turning of the tide, and I think these are deeper trends and not just a one-time wave," Perriello said.
Running hard against the Trump administration, Democrats picked up 15 seats in the 100-seat House of Delegates last fall. Republicans only hung onto a 51-49 majority after winning one tied district race in a random drawing.
It was Perriello who fired the first shot in last year's progressive onslaught, mounting a challenge from the left to then-Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam for the Democratic nomination for governor. Northam prevailed — and eventually took the governor's mansion — but the challenge helped push Northam's agenda and rhetoric toward the populist, progressive themes that also swept Democrats to victory in House races.
Perriello went on to lead Win Virginia, which spent more than $570,000 to help Democratic candidates in delegate races around the state. Supported with big donations from wealthy executives in Northern Virginia, the PAC paid Perriello nearly $25,000 a month last year to spearhead the effort, according to data from the Virginia Public Access Project.
Though he had bucked the state Democratic Party with his run against Northam, Perriello won praise for his show of unity and his help in the historic number of House wins. Democrats challenged incumbents in districts that hadn't seen competitive races for years, and won seats for a diverse group of primarily women that includes the state's first transgender delegate and first Latinas.
Many of those winners were novice politicians, and they'll face reelection in just two years. Having finished his gig at Win Virginia in December, Perriello said he wants to help Democrats build on their gains.
The new PAC features a diverse group of co-chairs, including former House of Delegates candidates Donte Tanner and Kellen Squire; Tara Gibson of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia; Margie Del Castillo of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health; and Alexandria Wheeler of the Virginia Black Leadership Organizing Collaborative.
The group will start with money left from his campaign funds, Perriello said, and is just beginning to court donors. While the focus is primarily on Virginia, the PAC will encourage candidates and causes nationwide, he said.
"2017 in Virginia was a positive victory amidst a pretty dark time, and that's resonated across the state and across the country," he said.
Perriello's continued involvement in state politics has fueled speculation that he intends to run for office again, but he said Wednesday that he's content for now to push other candidates.
"Sometimes it's more fun, frankly, to be on the advocacy side than the elected side," he said.