Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Ma), a leader of the Democratic party’s progressive wing, endorsed Tom Perriello in the Democratic primary race for Virginia governor on Monday.
Perriello is in a tight contest for the party’s nomination against Democrat Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who is backed by nearly every Democrat in the state legislature, congressional delegation and statewide office. The primary is June 13.
Warren gave the nod to Perriello during an interview with The Huffington Post in which she called Perriello, a former one-term congressman from Charlottesville, “an exciting guy.”
“He’s the kind of guy who says, ‘I am going to make change and I’m going to make change not for the richest, not for the most powerful, not for what’s politically expedient. I want to make change for hard-working families,’” Warren said.
Warren’s embrace follows an endorsement of Perriello earlier this month from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), perhaps the main leader of progressive politics in the country right now. Together, the two add a layer of national star power to Perriello’s insurgent campaign., something the campaign hopes to translate into campaign cash, volunteers and, ultimately, votes.
Perriello jumped into the race in January, surprising Northam and state party leaders, who had expected the lieutenant governor to have a clear path to the nomination. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who is backing Northam, is prohibited by the state constitution from seeking a second consecutive term.
Perriello has promoted an economic populist message in his gubernatorial campaign. Northam and his allies challenge his progressive credentials, noting several conservative stances Perriello took while in Congress - including support for a measure to allow oil and gas drilling off Virginia’s coast, defending the National Rifle Association and voting for an amendment to the Affordable Care Act that would have restricted funding to insurance plans that cover abortion.
Early polls show the pair tied or with Perriello with slight edge over Northam but within the margin of error.
Since his unexpected entry into the race, Perriello has outraised Northam, taking in $2.2 million to Northam’s $1.4 million, according to an analysis released last week by the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.
Perriello has drawn big money from national Democratic donors, including philanthropist and liberal activist George Soros. Fundraising reports for the first quarter of this year show that 57 percent of Perriello’s money came from outside Virginia, compared with 11 percent out-of-state donations for Northam, according to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.
Still, Northam had almost twice as much campaign cash available as Perriello as of March 31, with $3.3 million compared with Perriello’s $1.7 million.
A spokesman for Perriello said the endorsement from Warren was “unexpected.”
In a statement, Perriello said he was proud to have Warren’s support in “my progressive campaign to raise wages, make college more affordable, and put consumers ahead of unchecked greed, so that no Virginia family is left behind.”
Virginia is one of just two states to hold a gubernatorial election this year (the other is New Jersey) and both national parties are closely watching the state as an early test of voter sentiment in the era of President Trump. With its proximity to Washington and a workforce and economy that are heavily tied to the federal government and the military, Virginia is signficiantly impacted by federal policy.
Perriello and Northam will face off in the first debate of their primary contest on Saturday in Fairfax County. They are competing to run against the winner of the GOP primary race, also on June 13, among former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie, state Sen. Frank Wagner (Virginia Beach) and Corey Stewart, the chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors.