A year ago, if you asked me, I would have told you Tom Perriello had perhaps a 5% chance of defeating Rep. Virgil Goode here in the Fifth District. In fact, Perriello asked me what his odds were a little over a year ago, and that’s pretty much what I told him, albeit over the course of an hour. This election eve, I’d say he’s got something approaching a 50/50 chance, which is what the polls say. I wouldn’t guess at the outcome of this race, and that’s a first.
So what changed? How did a long-shot candidacy become viable in its final week?
First and foremost, Perriello raised the necessary money. $1.5M was the magic number for me, the point at which he’d be financially competitive with Goode. I wish he’d hit that point about 30 days ago, rather than a week before the election, but the point is that he got there. That final shot in the arm came from the DCCC, which demands a poll showing the challenger below 50% before they’ll support a campaign. The DCCC is how races like this are won; I’m just glad they were willing to give so much at such a late date.
Second, he ran a solid, pyramidal campaign. He built up a good base of individual contacts through person-to-person campaigning across the district, albeit beginning about a year later than I would have advised. He established what appears outwardly to be a competent staff, with none of the resume-padding campaign monkeys that have plagued past campaigns in this district. He learned to pronounce Danville. (It’s DAN-vuhl, incidentally. Kind of like “WAYNES-burl,” over the mountain from here.) Layer upon layer, the campaign added on more sophisticated messaging, faster response times, and wider-reaching advertising. This set the stage for the possibility of change the third.
Third, this simply isn’t the sort of race that can be won by a challenger, it can only be lost by an incumbent—Goode has been doing just that. He managed to go months without a gaffe, but then came this story of “Eden’s Curve.” At first it looked silly, like a long shot. But then Goode legitimized it by announcing that he’d conducting a full investigation into his staffers’ conduct, and that opened the media floodgates. It was when I saw a WSLS reporter banging on Jerry Meador’s front door, camera rolling that I realized the tenor of things had changed. Goode is rocked back on his heels, which he’s never been before. If Goode hadn’t erred, I can’t see that Perriello would be within 10% of Goode. But that’s how upsets like this happen—you need a candidate to run a long-shot race, hoping that the other guy will screw up.
Goode is scared. He doesn’t know what to expect tomorrow. He telegraphed that with every word that he spoke at the debate in Martinsville this evening. He was angry, strongly on the offense, displaying bluster where Perriello showed only calmness. Perriello’s opening statement was about the importance of honesty, bipartisanship, and fairness. Goode’s opening statement consisted wholly of bile. It was a remarkable study in contrast.
(Remarkable also was that Goode failed to pronounce Perriello’s name correctly even once. Were Perriello an under-funded, little-known candidate, it would be understandable. But not only will Perriello quite possibly be shown to have out-raised Goode, but one of his TV ads was all about how to pronounce his name. Either Goode is stupid, he has something amiss in his hypothalamus, or he’s being an ass.)
Rep. Virgil Goode long ago became an embarrassment to this district, but the prospect of removing him at the ballot box has been too remote a possibility to consider in elections of late. That’s changed, and that’s an exciting prospect. If Tom Perriello loses, I hope he’ll consider giving it another shot after taking a couple of weeks off. And if he wins… Well, wouldn’t that just be the cherry on top of Virginia Democrats’ Election Day sundae?