Home 2017 Races Northam or Perriello: What Message to Send the Democratic Party?

Northam or Perriello: What Message to Send the Democratic Party?


I’ve written before about the upcoming primary contest between Ralph Northam and Tom Perriello (here and here).

Upon reflection, there is a whole additional dimension that ought to be considered: this primary, and the subsequent election of a governor in November, will play more than usual role in shaping the future of the Democratic Party– and I mean at the national level.

Several factors combine this year to make that so:

1) As usual, because of the Virginia election schedule, our elections — being among a comparatively few in the nation — will get a disproportionate amount of national attention.

2) Not so usual is the level of turbulence these days in our national politics. May I assume that point needs no elaboration?

3) That high level of upheaval in our politics, combined with the distressing reality that the Democratic Party has lost control of all the branches of the federal government –as well as the great majority of state governments — make this a time when the Democratic Party is itself unusually ripe for serious self-examination. The circumstances require the Party to be confronting the questions:  How should we define ourselves, and how should we conduct ourselves, as a Party?

4) Northam and Perriello represent different kinds of Democratic politicians. Their presentations dramatize that difference; their endorsements reflect that difference; and the media coverage depicts that difference– all in consistent ways.

Combining those four elements, we can see: the choice we make as Virginia Democrats between Northam and Perriello will send a message to the wider world of Democratic politics.

If Northam wins the nomination and the governorship, that will be one message; if Perriello wins the nomination and the governorship, that will be another message. (And the futures markets indicate at this point that there is nearly a 3:1 likelihood that the winner of the June 13 Democratic primary will be the next governor)

All of which raises two questions: 1) what would be the difference between those two possible messages? and 2) which of those two messages should we wish to send to the Democratic Party?


I’ve written before that — although I hope that Tom Perriello is the nominee — I will gladly support whoever wins on June 13. Also, I want to be fair in how I now characterize what a Northam victory vs. a Perriello victory would mean in terms of how it will be interpreted — as a message– by the Democratic Party nationwide.

Would it not be fair to say that Northam represents greater continuity of style and tone and approach, for Democratic politics, than Perriello? I use the phrase “greater continuity” because some others that also seem to me to apply — status quo, politics-as-usual, more-of-the-same — tend to have pejorative connotations, even though they mean the same thing.

And would it not be fair to say that Perriello represents more boldness in style, more willingness to be morally impassioned in tone, more confrontational in approach than Northam?

It seems clear enough to me that the stunning political developments of our times — and the disastrous loss of power to today’s Republican Party — make this a time for a major course correction for the Democrats.

Given that the “status quo” of the Democratic Party has allowed them to be defeated by a Party that has lied on virtually everything, don’t we need some kind of bolder, more impassioned messaging?

Why would we want “more of the same” to be the message sent to a Democratic Party that has lost so much ground to a Republican Party that for a generation has done virtually nothing that improves the life prospects of average citizens (and indeed has taken wealth and power away from them to give to the wealthiest and mightiest)?

Quiz question: What is it that Einstein called doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result?

If now is not a time for a break from “politics as usual,” when would be?

In Virginia, politics as usual has meant a stunningly corrupt system that allows, among other things, a supposedly publicly-regulated monopoly like Dominion Power to buy influence in the government that is supposed to do the regulating.

Tom Perriello has shown much greater determination to resist that system, and has forsworn taking Dominion money. Northam has not. I recognize that everyone has to compete in the game as it stands, but one can still show more or less eagerness to correct the flaws in that game.

At a different level, there’s the question of how to deal with the Republicans. Chances are that the next governor — like the present one — will face a Republican-controlled General Assembly.

It is not only at the national level that the Republican Party of today is an atrocity. Consider how Virginia’s elected Republicans willingly joined in to block the expansion of Medicaid, sacrificing the right to health-care security of 400,000 Virginians, and squandering billions of dollars of Virginia taxpayer money– all just to try to deprive the Democratic President (Obama) of a victory.

Which kind of Democrat — Northam or Perriello — can you more readily picture being able to exact a real political price from the Republicans, over the next four years, if they fail to do the right thing?

Which leads to the similar issue of how Democrats will deal with the toxicity that Trump and the Republicans in Congress are spilling into the country.

What kind of candidates do we want our fellow Democrats around the nation to choose as their champions to take back control of Congress? And what kind of message do we want to send to the Democrats in Congress about how bold to be in calling out and confronting Trump and his allies?

Our choice on June 13 will have some impact on those things.

An old movie, titled Fear Strikes Out, tells the true story of 1950s Boston Red Sox great, Jimmy Piersall. Piersall has had a mental breakdown, and his psychiatrist is trying to get him to recognize how his father has contributed to that breakdown. Piersall becomes furious and, defending his father, declares: “If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be where I am today!” But then, seeing that where he is today is in a mental hospital, he sees also what he has just said.

Let us look at “where we are today,” and ask ourselves: Is it not clear that we need a different kind of spirit to animate the Democratic Party than the one that has brought us to this pass?

And would not the nomination and election of Tom Perriello to the Virginia governorship be a meaningful way to encourage the rest of the Democratic Party in the direction of that different kind of spirit?

  • old_redneck

    Tom’s mother spoke to our county Democratic Party last night; she probably picked up a lot of votes for him.

    Most of the comments from both young and old Democrats were “It’s time to bring young people into the party. No more of this ‘He’s paid his dues, now it’s his turn.’ “

  • As Threats from Trump Administration and Republicans Grow, Perriello Calls for Positive Democratic Primary Campaign Commitment

    Perriello: ‘What Trump Wants Most Is Democrats Attacking Each Other, but We Must Unite against Hate, Corruption, and Incompetence’

    With the recent appointment of a special counsel to oversee the investigation of President Trump’s Russia ties and Virginia Republicans eager to sow division among Democrats to distract from their disastrous president and dangerous health care proposal, Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Perriello is committing to a positive campaign in the Democratic primary’s home stretch and urging his primary opponent, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, to join him.

    “With Donald Trump threatening so much of what we hold dear, now is a time to offer clear plans for how to confront an agenda of hate and offer our best alternative vision for building a Virginia of opportunity that leaves no region or race behind,” Perriello said in a statement. “As I’ve said from the beginning, our primary for governor should be a competition for the best ideas for Virginia’s future. What Trump wants most is Democrats attacking each other, but we must unite against hate, corruption and incompetence. I hope Ralph will join me in committing to a positive campaign in this primary’s home stretch. As Ralph said last weekend, we Democrats ‘need to stick together’ in the face of hostile attacks from Republicans in Washington and Richmond, and this primary should remain focused on inspiring hundreds of thousands of Virginians to show up to the polls on June 13 to vote for the best progressive vision for Virginia.”

    From the beginning of his campaign for governor, Tom pledged “to focus on a positive, progressive campaign of ideas” to grow Virginia’s economy inclusively, support working families, and defend our progress against the hate and divisiveness of the Trump administration. This commitment for the remainder of the primary would unite Democrats around mobilizing strong turnout in the June primary, rejecting negative attacks and focusing on standing up to Republicans who are threatening our progress.

    “As Governor McAuliffe and Attorney General Herring have shown with their response to the travel ban and leadership on climate action, Virginia deserves strong leaders at the state level to stand up to President Trump’s harmful agenda, and I will spend the remaining weeks of this primary explaining to voters how I plan to provide that as governor,” Perriello continued. “Democrats can and should be united heading into Election Day in sending a clear message to Donald Trump and Republicans that progressives are energized to defeat their backward vision in November and beyond.”

  • A 30-minute debate in a studio? Alrighty…

    Northam, Perriello Campaigns Announce Final Democratic Primary Debate

    Candidates Will Hold In-Studio Debate to Air on NBC4

    Today, May 19, the campaigns of Lt. Governor Ralph Northam and former Congressman Tom Perriello are announcing the final Democratic gubernatorial primary debate. The candidates will debate in studio at NBC4, with reporter Julie Carey as the moderator.

    The thirty minute debate will be pre-taped and air Sunday, May 28, at 11:30 a.m., immediately following Meet the Press. This debate replaces the previously announced debate in Loudoun County.

    The Democratic primary is June 13.

  • Withheld Information

    You’ve written this article before. And I’m just as impressed with it now as I was then.

    They’re running for Governor of Virginia. Not the House or Senate. Trump isn’t their primary job, the national GOP isn’t their job. Their job is to govern Virginia and push forward a progressive mandate in the state.

    Perriello is more of a firebrand than Northam for sure, but don’t mistake hard talk and fiery words for effectiveness. Weiner was a firebrand. And Grayson too. Neither amounted to anything other than being tossed out of office in scandal. They sent no new message.

    Moreover, is Perriello sincere? He’s lied before. He lied during that debate when Northam confronted him about how Perriello once bragged about voting more with Republicans than Democrats, or about the time he labelled himself as more of a ‘libertarian’ than a Democrat. His candidacy now just stinks of opportunism. Any shmuck can channel anti-Trump rage given the situation in politics now. That doesn’t make him a good fit for Governor. He’s minimally experienced in terms of Virginia politics, has no ties to the state party and isn’t well liked by them, and his record is just as mixed and conservative as Northam’s is. Northam’s been honest about it at least, and he never did anything as bad as voting/writing up the Stupak Amendment.

    The Governor of Virginia isn’t a symbol. They have actual responsibilities and a duty to the people of the state. Northam understands that. Perriello is posturing, and it’s sad that people want posturing and words over genuine desire to work and help.

    • You’ve written this comment before. And I’m just as impressed with it now as I was then. LOL

  • TheVirginia

    I will vote for Northram because Perriello lost his seat in 2010, because the car crushing commericial was an ineffective metaphor, and because his campaign is not hiring my hardworking canvassing son. I’ve told him to put his efforts toward Northram. We’ll see. Yeah, sometimes politics is personal.

    • Aileen Caldwell Laing

      It is personal. That’s why I won’t vote for the guy who almost became a republican in 09 AND takes Dominion Power money when they are trying to force high voltage power lines through my neighborhood AND making us pay for the “privilege”

    • Can’t decide if this is parody or not — you’re seriously not going to vote for a candidate b/c you think one of his ads used an “ineffective metaphor” (note that the vast majority of people thought that ad was highly effective/powerful, which is why it “went viral”) and because he lost (although by a much smaller margin than Glenn Nye, for instance) in the Tea Party wipeout of 2010, in large part b/c he had the courage to vote for “Obamacare?”

      • TheVirginia

        Ok, I’ll vote for Periello. You convinced me.

  • Glen Bayless

    My feeling is that I want to support the candidate that has the best chance to win in November against (probably) Gillespie. Right now, I am not sure who that is. Any help from the crowd? Thanks

    • The only polling I’ve seen on this so far (Quinnipiac) has it as follows:

      Perriello tops Gillespie 46 – 33 percent (+13 points)
      Northam leads Gillespie 44 – 33 percent (+11 points)

      • Glen Bayless

        Thanks..very helpful

        • I’d also ask yourself whether you think Tom or Ralph would be better this fall at bringing out voters angry at Trump. To my mind, that’s a very easy call to make (Tom, obviously).

          • Glen Bayless

            I agree that Perriello would probably be more effective in building enthusiasm. My indecision lies with the significant numbers of my older dem activist friends who are Northam supporters. These are the folks that have made phone calls, knocked doors, made contributions to local candidates for years.

          • Glen Bayless

            I really respect your opinion in state politics…keep up the great work!

          • Thanks Glen; excellent questions by the way!

          • Do you feel like older Dem voters would actually stay home in November if Perriello, not Northam, is the Dem gubernatorial nominee? I’d say the chances of that are close to zero.

          • Glen Bayless

            I do not think us oldies would stay home for Perriello. Younger voters might not turn out for Northam which may give us a below 30/40% turnout which may bring a loss in the general. I am just not getting any sense of enthusiasm for Perriello among my peers..over 60 folks.

          • Yeah, the thing is that older voters tend to turn out regularly – regardless of how excited they are about a particular candidate – while younger voters turn out much more sporadically. So I’m much more concerned about exciting younger voters than older voters in this election (and every other election, really).

  • Natalie Roy

    Isn’t Northam better on gun control? The other guy gives a lot of lip service to the issue but has voted with the NRA. And yes I know this is VA where guns rule but there are still plenty of us who live here who believe that there is no constitutional right to militarize our neighborhoods.