I’m beginning to think Tom Perriello has a stash of nudie pictures of someone within the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Blackmail is about the only thing that could explain his remarkable resurgence of the last 72 hours.
The incumbent Democratic Congressman from Virginia’s Fifth District has been locked in a dead heat with Republican challenger Robert Hurt for what seems like forever. Rumors abounded that Perriello was one of the candidates “triaged” out of significant Party support almost two months ago.
But even though none of the metrics working against Perriello have changed, in the last three days he’s appeared on The Colbert Report and been mentioned by President Obama during his appearance on The Daily Show. In concert with this Comedy Central blitz, the White House announced late Tuesday that President Obama would come and stump for Perriello in Charlottesville tonight.
As gratifying as all this positive presidential reinforcement must be to a junior congressman, were I Perriello’s campaign manager, I would have recommended he politely decline the offer.
Over the years, several studies have shown that presidential visits don’t do much to improve a candidate’s chances in an election, particularly in the final days of a race. A report in 2000, looking at elections back to 1982, found that only a third of such visits had a positive impact. Such visits don’t do much to change the minds of the fence-sitters, and galvanizes the opposition.
That is a huge risk for Perriello.
In 2008, he trumped incumbent Virgil Goode by a mere 727 votes out of 317,000 cast. And while he’s brought himself into within the margin of error, he’s still behind Hurt in the polls.
You can’t even blame Perriello; this is just how the Fifth District rolls. It’s the size of New Jersey and overwhelming rural and conservative. Democratic candidates tend to carry the liberal stronghold of Charlottesville -- although as a transplanted Yankee, I want to snort milk out of my nose every time I hear my adopted city described as “liberal” -- and struggle everywhere else.
The Obama-thon rationale is understandable: with the momentum behind Hurt in a Republican-trending year, why not use a presidential visit to try to shift the momentum towards Perriello?
I’m unconvinced the strategy will work.
This morning, the local chatter is about road closures and how much the city and county are going to have to pay for security and when the Doggie Howl-o-ween Parade is going to take place. (Hey, it’s a small city.) It’s not about the (many) merits of re-electing Perriello.
In the final days of the campaign, focus should be on reaching undecideds and getting out the vote. The President’s visit is sucking all the oxygen out of those activities.
While thousands of supporters will turn up at the Pavilion tonight, it’s an audience of people who are already behind Perriello. The fence-sitters are going to be at home....unless the live in the Charlottesville area. They’re more likely to be sitting in their cars, trying to make their way home through a maze of detours, listening to endless anti-Perrillo ads on the radio.
And after three days of hurried coordination with the White House and the DNCC, the campaign staff is going to have less energy for the weekend GOTV canvassing...a task already complicated by the hundreds of locals headed up to DC this weekend for the Daily Show’s “Million Moderate March.”
Worse, it gives the Republicans a last-minute burst of energy. While the President Obama is popular in Charlottesville itself, he narrowly lost the whole district in 2008. The Republican strategy for months has been to brand Perriello as a “lap dog” of Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi. Tonight’s event plays perfectly into that narrative. Expect the flood of commercials featuring video of Obama with his arm around Perriello to hit the local airways by Saturday afternoon.
Tempting as it is, I don’t think I’ll join the screaming hordes at the Pavilion tonight. I don’t need to be. Tom’s already got my vote.