Tom Perriello

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Tom Perriello is a one-term member of the United States House of Representatives (Democrat) representing the 5th Congressional District of Virginia. He was defeated in 2010 by Republican Robert Hurt, even though President Barack Obama visited the district, the only Congressman for which he did so. In the rural district in which he grew up, he is associated with the Christian Left, and makes a different sort of religious appeal to its social conservatives. He describes himself as a "social entepreneur...the entrepreneurial spirit was in the nonprofit sector" [rather than in government or for-profit institutions] [1] The American Prospect said "he has a knack for talking about progressive issues with people who aren't progressives."[2]

Former Republican Representative Tom Davis commended Perriello's effort, saying he stood on principle and did not deny his positions.

Everyone went the other way and Perriello stood his ground. He was the exception, and it's why he gets everyone's begrudging admiration. He's got nothing to be ashamed of. He fought a good fight. He was just in the wrong fight."

In my opinion, he is still very viable," Davis said. "The sky's the limit for him...He's universally respected. If he wants to stay in politics, he's the kind of person you want in politics. He's principled. He's earnest. He's polite. He's all of those things. He can come up to [more liberal] Fairfax, and he'll probably win forever. [3]

2010 Elections

While his district is considered quite conservative, he has positioned himself as a populist rather than as a liberal or progressive. As economic populism, he says "If you take the stimulus, health care and energy and you treat them as three discrete debates, you've already lost...All three were about making us competitive in the world....We have to build, make and grow things in America. We can't win a race to the bottom with China." [4]

Rather than traditional identification, he sees himself as coming from a younger generation of activists.

"We came to Washington not to see how long we could stay, but to see if we could succeed where previous generations had failed."

I belong to Generation X, which I think can be more accurately described as the Community Service Generation. We don’t sit on the sidelines. We have volunteered in record numbers and pioneered nonprofit organizations, using entrepreneurial savvy to solve our communities’ seemingly intractable problems. We took our talents directly into the schools and prisons.


He is among the 20 Congressmen explicitly targeted by Sarah Palin in a controversial campaign that put, on a map, crosshairs on 20 districts won by McCain-Palin. On 22 March 2010, Mike Troxel, an organizer for the Lynchburg Tea Party, "posted on his blog what he thought was the congressman’s address, encouraging tea party activists to “drop by.” " Other blogs repeated it. The address, however, was that of Bo Perriello, Tom Perriello's brother, who found a gas line, at the house cut. County fire officials and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are investigating. [6]

President Barack Obama visited Perriello's district, making his only appearance for a Congressional candidate. Andy Sera, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said "For the better part of two years, Congressman Perriello has repeatedly sold out his constituents to support Barack Obama's job-killing agenda. Now - in conjunction with the seven liberal special interest groups currently airing ads on the congressman's behalf - here's his payoff." [7] }}</ref>

2008 Election and Term

He ran against then-Rep. Virgil Goode, (R) a seven-term incumbent who had beat his previous opponents by no fewer than 20 points. In August, Tom was still down 34 points in the polls; few, if any, political experts thought he had a shot. But he built the largest grassroots network the district had ever seen, ran an innovative campaign based on service and people power, and devised a comprehensive economic revival strategy. [8]

Candidate Party Vote total Percentage
Tom Perriello Democrat 158,810 50.09%
Virgil H. Goode Republican 158,083 49.86%

Source: Federal Election Results - final official tally


Committee assignments

Congressional caucuses



He has been criticized, in his rural district, for supporting environmental legislation, but has been framing his positions as religious but from the Christian Left. "It's important for people to see that it's not just [Democrats] saying this is important, but people who are coming at it from a moral background," According to a Wall Street Journal article, political consultants have been barraged with calls from business interests in the southern United States,concerned with a "massive ad blitz on Christian and country-music stations across 10 states. The ads, funded by a left-leaning coalition, urge support for congressional legislation to curb greenhouse-gas emissions -- by framing the issue as an urgent matter of Biblical morality." [9]

He is associated with a coalition including Faith in Public Life, Sojourners and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Goodis distributing an eight-page guide, full of Biblical quotes and health-care statistics, to encourage pastors to raise environmental issues. "Democratic lawmakers representing conservative districts say such efforts help them make the case to skeptical constituents that they aren't simply toeing the party line -- or turning into bleeding-heart liberals -- when they support President Barack Obama's calls for health-care and climate-change legislation.


He supported the Obama Administration stimulus plan and an expansion in the State Children's Health Insurance Program, but was one of 20 Democrats to oppose the April 2009 budget resolution, based on growth of the deficit. [10]

He has said he could support a compromise version of the Employee Free Choice Act if it protected secret-ballot elections.[11]

Having opposed the Obama Administration financial reform bill because it was too soft on the financial industry, his campaign literature touts him for "demanding accountability from Wall Street and Washington." [4]

Health care

While he initially hesitated to vote for the November 2009 health care bill, based on fiscal concerns, he eventually voted both for it and the final March 2010 legislation. Regarding the public option and market versus government approaches, he said

I feel like you’re seeing a last gasp of the debate that has paralyzed politics since the 60s, which is, either you’re pro-market or pro-government. I think this generation asks the question, “What’s the problem and how can we solve it?” For us, the market and the power of profit motive is a good thing. For us, this is a pragmatic question, are we going to bring costs down? Not “is it a government take-over?” or are these corporations run amok? So I think you see more of a solutions-oriented person in politics in confrontation with the ideological divides of the 60s generation.[2]

He has cosponsored the Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act.


The House unanimously passed, on 22 March 2010, the H.R. 4667, the Veterans Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2010, to increase the rate of compensation for disabled veterans and their survivors and dependents to keep pace with the rising cost-of-living. He introduced this legislation, and has been endorsed by the Veterans for Foreign Wars.[4]

Voting ratings

Organization Rating Date
American Civil Liberties Union
American Conservative Union
Americans for Democratic Action
Cato Institute
Christian Coalition
Human Rights Campaign
League of Conservation Voters
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
National Rifle Association
National Right to Life Committee
National Taxpayers Union
U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Sources: Links to the voting ratings guides of the above organizations together with brief descriptive information on the organizations themselves, may be found at:


After graduating from Yale University with a major in humanities, he Perriello graduated from Yale with a major in humanities, then consulted on youth and environmental campaigns in Washington at the Center for a Sustainable Economy (now part of Redefining Progress).

Subsequently, he obtained a law degree from Yale University, and then assignment working to end atrocities in the West African countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone, which had suffered long civil wars fueled by blood diamonds. With child soldiers and local democracy promotion activists in Sierra Leone, he worked in the peace and reconciliation process to ended twelve years of violence in that country. He then became Special Advisor and spokesperson for the Special Court for Sierra Leone, a joint effort between the restored government and the United Nations. He then worked as a national security analyst for the Century Foundation. He has worked in Kosovo,Darfur and twice in Afghanistan.

He is an activist in the Christian Left. In 2003, he was a cofounder of Res Publica (New York City), which founded a number of other groups, such as Progressive Faith Media and It also spawned and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, faith-based organizations that support children’s health care, supporting a higher minimum wage, environmental stewardship, and responsible solutions in Iraq.[8] Another project, the Catholic Voting Project, presented a 2004 Voter Guide with a "consistent ethic of life over the abortion-centric "non-negotiable" voter guides published by conservative Catholic groups."[12]


  1. Gail Russell Chaddock (10 July 2008), "Social activists hunt for congressional seats ... in G.O.P. districts", Christian Science Monitor
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Health Care in the House: An Interview with Tom Perriello", American Prospect, 9 September 2009
  3. Rosalind Helderman (3 November 2010), "Tom Davis on Tom Perriello: 'Still very viable'", Washington Post
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 E.J. Dionne Jr. (7 October 2010), "Virginia's 5th District race may say a lot about the electoral landscape", Washington Post
  5. Tom Perriello, "The Activist Politician", America's Quarterly
  6. "FBI investigates Virginia incident", Politico, 24 March 2010
  7. Anne E. Kornblut and Ben Pershing (26 October 2010), "Obama to campaign for Virginia Rep. Tom Perriello", Washington Post
  8. 8.0 8.1 About Tom, Perriello for Congress
  9. Stephanie Simon (3 July 2009), "In Political Ads, Christian Left Mounts Sermonic Campaigns", Wall Street Journal
  10. Brian McNeill (2 September 2009), "Perriello's first 100 days", The Daily Progress
  11. Reed, Ray, “Perriello predicts no Senate vote on union legislation,” The News & Advance, May 2, 2009, quoted in
  12. Joe Feuerherd (29 December 2004), "Res Publica: A Public Works Project", National Catholic Reporter