For better or worse: Rep. Perriello embraces Obama, last-minute help

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – President Obama praised Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.) for having the “political courage” to stand with him at a rally Friday.

Saddled with low polls numbers and an unpopular agenda, many Democrats up for reelection have been hesitant to appear with the president. But Perriello, a freshman Democrat holding a conservative-leaning district, literally embraced Obama as he took the stage at an outdoor pavilion.  

“The reason I am here is because in this day and age, let’s face it, political courage is hard to come by,” Obama told the crowd.

Many members of Congress decide how to vote on legislation based on poll numbers, he said. “That’s how a lot of folks think they should do their jobs in Washington.”

Perriello was different, Obama added.

“He didn’t go to Washington to do what was easy, to do what was popular, he went to do what was right,” the president said. “And now the lobbyists and the special interests are going after him. … Do you have his back?”

The crowd, which was estimated at some 7,000, cheered loudly.

“This is a test case right here in Charlottesville – because this man has integrity,” Obama said, pointing back at Perriello.

As Obama has campaigned across the country in recent weeks, he has held rallies for Senate and gubernatorial candidates -- and House members have appeared with him. But he hadn’t made an appearance for a lone House candidate – until Friday.

Perriello was a symbolic choice. He voted for the cap-and-trade bill, the stimulus bill and the healthcare reform bill – and ardently defended those decisions in public forums.

Moreover, despite embracing the president’s agenda, Perriello is facing a tough reelection race. With that in mind, Obama’s visit wasn’t so much political payback for Perriello as an attempt by the president to convince his party that standing with him is good politics. 

Before handing the podium to the president, Perriello told the crowd he didn’t always side with Obama. “The president and I have agreed on some issues, and disagreed on others,” said Perriello, who voted against his party’s financial reform bill.

He then launched into a defense of the first two years of the Obama administration, citing expanded Pell Grants for college students, the stimulus bill and the health insurance reform bill. “Being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition,” he said.

Two years ago, Perriello unseated six-term Republican Rep. Virgil Goode by a razor-thin margin. Obama carried Virginia in the presidential election, but didn’t win the 5th district.

“Two years ago we defied the pundits,” Perriello said. “Two years ago we rejected everyone else’s definition of what was possible in Virginia politics.”

Winning by a large margin in Charlottesville – home to the University of Virginia – was key to Perriello’s victory. He urged supporters, many of whom were students, to maintain their desire for change. 

“That change has been tough, it’s been brutal, but with your help we’re going to keep fighting,” Perriello said.

While Perriello banked on Obama’s appearance to help him over the finish line, his Republican challenger said it could tip the race in his favor.

“I think that this will be fatal,” state Sen. Robert HurtRobert HurtDemocrat defeats controversial chair of House Wall Street subpanel Republican groups launch final ad blitz in key House battlegrounds Armed protester stands outside Dem's office for 12 hours MORE told WVIR-TV.

Polls show the race is statistically tied going into the final weekend before Election Day.