Obama stumps for incumbent Perriello
President draws thousands to Downtown Mall, rallies for Democrat
Just four days before the midterm elections, President Obama came to Charlottesville Friday night to speak on behalf of Congressman Tom Perriello, the Fifth District's Democratic candidate. The rally was the first Obama held on behalf of a single congressman for the upcoming midterm election.
Perriello will face Republican state Sen. Robert Hurt at the polls tomorrow in an election projected to be close. Recent polls conducted by SurveyUSA and Roanoke College both show Hurt leading by less than 10 points in this traditionally agrarian and conservative district.
Perriello was elected two years ago with only 727 votes more than then-incumbent Virgil Goode. The voters who narrowly secured Perriello's victory also made Obama the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Virginia since 1964.
Obama, whose audience filled the Charlottesville Pavilion to maximum capacity and wound through the Downtown Mall and its surrounding streets, said the choice Fifth District voters will face is one between "policies that got us into this mess and the policies that are getting us out of this mess."
The crowd was estimated at more than 2,000 inside the pavilion seating boundaries and between 8,000 and 10,000 listening from beyond the gates. Lines formed early in the day and stretched down the mall, wrapping around the ice rink on the opposite end of the stretch and along Water Street before the gates opened at 5 p.m.\nJoy Jamison of Hardy, Va. took her place in line to see Perriello and the president at 4 p.m. Jamison spent her evening supporting Perriello because "he's aggressive; he's got ideas and he's standing up there now and saying, 'I ran for health care.' He's running on his record, one of the very few who are."
The crowd also included numerous protestors of both the president and the congressman. One protester held a sign quoting Perriello as saying, "If you don't tie our hands, we will keep stealing." The quote comes from an address the congressman gave to Tea Party members in March discussing the need to limit representatives' ability to spend. Others protested the president's continuation of the war in Afghanistan.
"I'm glad that people were respectful of them at the least, and they absolutely have the right to protest," Charlottesville resident Kate Pace said. "I hope that they remember that, and when Democratic protestors show up to Republican rallies, that they don't react with hatred."
The night began at 6:15 p.m. when Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris described Perriello as "the hardest working member of Congress." The mayor was followed by several other speakers and performances before the president appeared. A Charlottesville reverend spoke as well as a small business owner from Fluvanna County and a Halifax-County Air Force Veteran.
Fourth-year University student Allison Hunn also spoke to the massive crowd, urging her peers to vote. Hunn, a volunteer for Perriello's campaign, said students are "so often dismissed for being apathetic" but should appreciate the tax deductions for text books and tuition that Perriello secured while in office.
The congressman appeared at 7:40 p.m. to a crowd of people waving blue Perriello signs. He addressed the positive changes he believes to have brought state residents since his election. He spoke about reports that the United States was losing 740,000 jobs per month when he and Obama were elected in 2008 and the reports that there has now been nine consecutive months of private secure job growth in the country.
Perriello also mentioned his work for students to receive Federal Pell Grants and for young people to be able to stay on their parents' health insurance until the age of 26, adding, "I understand we may have a few students in the house."
The congressman introduced Obama by prefacing that he appreciated the support though the two Democrats did not always see eye to eye on issues. The president echoed these sentiments.
"I'm not here because Tom votes with me on every issue," Obama said to the crowd. "Sometimes he disagrees with me. There are times when I know that his first allegiance is not to party labels, it is not to the Democratic Party. It is to the people of the Fifth District of Virginia."
The president's speech lasted nearly 31 minutes. He appeared ready to work as he ran on stage without a jacket and his sleeves rolled up. Several times Obama embraced Perriello, who stood a few feet away during the address.
"Are you fired up?" Obama asked the crowd, saying he stopped by to make sure the city votes "for one of the best Congressmen Virginia has ever seen."
After announcing that Perriello went to Washington to "do what was right," the president was interrupted by the crowd chanting, "Go Tom, go!" Obama joined in the chanting briefly before continuing his speech.
"In these last four days," Obama concluded, "I need you to knock on doors and make phone calls and talk to your neighbors and vote because if you're willing to step up to the plate, we won't just win this election, we won't just send Tom back to Congress, but we will rebuild this middle class. And we will put people back to work. And we will reclaim the American Dream for future generations."
Many members of the University Democrats worked as volunteers for the event, and President Adam Gillenwater secured a seat on the rafters onstage behind the podium. "I think the rally was a great way to pump up enthusiasm among students," Gillenwater said. "The president would not be coming down here if he didn't think this was a really competitive race."
Hurt appeared on the Fox News Channel at 9 p.m. Friday night, moments after the president left the Charlottesville stage, to appeal to supporters.
His campaign launched an effort for last-minute funds asking supporter to contribute to "show the country that this race can't be bought with union money and presidential visits can't undo the damage done by a failing Congress."
Sean Harrison, Hurt's campaign manager, said in a statement that Friday marked the day Perriello "embraced the face that he is Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi's congressman, not ours."
Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell also released a statement Friday saying the president's "policies have not been good for the people of Virginia," and that Perriello's "lock-step support of those policies has similarly not been positive for voters from Danville to Albemarle County."
The polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. tomorrow and University Democrats will offer shuttles and other resources for students interested in voting. "We're in full get-out-the-vote mode right now," Gillenwater said. "If a student needs to vote on election day, we'll make sure that happens."
-Bethel Habte contributed to this article