In Virginia's 5th Congressional District, incumbent freshman Democrat Tom Perriello, elected in 2008 as part of the Barack Obama wave, was defeated by Virginia state Sen. Robert Hurt whose campaign slogan was "A Proven Conservative with Virginia Values."
This district was one of the most hotly contested and closely watched House races in the nation, featuring a last minute campaign visit by President Obama. Hurt, who served three terms in the Virginia House before being elected to the state Senate in 2006, stressed Perriello's support of the Obama agenda throughout the campaign.
From the courthouse steps in Chatham, his hometown, Hurt told his supporters "the hard work" begins Wednesday. "It's now our time to make sure that we continue to hold our leaders accountable to the people." He also said he intends to go to Congress to make a difference, and said "I believe that our greatest days are to come."
Perriello was a favorite of the president who singled him out as being especially courageous for his support of health care and other Democratic agenda items including the stimulus and cap-and-trade. Educated at Yale as both an undergrad and a law school student, the 35-year-old Perriello was picked in Washingtonian magazine's "Best and Worst of Congress" poll this fall as the No. 1 "Surprise Standout" in the House.
Obama traveled to Charlottesville on Friday to make an appearance for the freshman Democrat at the University of Virginia, and was effusive in his praise calling Perriello a congressman of integrity and courage.
"In this day and age, let's face it, political courage is hard to come by. The easiest thing to do, especially when you're a first-term congressman, the easiest thing to do is make your decisions based on the polls. You put your fingers up to the wind, you check which way the political wind is blowing before you cast every vote. That's how a lot of folks think they should do their jobs in Washington. And that's not who Tom is. He did not go to Washington to do what was easy, to do what was popular. He went to do what was right. And now the lobbyists and the special interests are going after him. We always say we want integrity from our elected officials. And you know what, this is a test case right here in Charlottesville because this man has integrity," said Obama.
Perriello, who has a somewhat combative and forthright style, did not run away from his support for most of the Obama/Democratic agenda
. However, he did differ
with the Administration's economic policies calling several months ago for Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and chief Obama economic adviser Lawrence Summers to be fired.
He also diverged on issues like tobacco and farming support that are important to his district. He supports gun rights
and was one of the few Democrats endorsed by the National Rifle Association this year. He also voted for the anti-abortion Stupak Amendment to the health care bill.
Virginia's 5th District is extremely diverse, from the highly educated and relatively affluent Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia and many wealthy retirees, to extremely poor rural towns like Martinsville, which has lost 12,000 jobs over the past few decades and has a 20 percent unemployment rate.
The district covers all or part of 18 counties, making it the state's largest district with an area of almost 9,000 square miles, larger than the state of New Jersey.
It is a conservative district that has voted for Republicans for president in recent elections. Perriello
defeated Republican incumbent Congressman Virgil Goode by a mere 727 votes, one of the closest elections in the nation in 2008. McCain carried the district over Obama 51-48% and in the previous two presidential elections, George W. Bush won here.
In his television ads, Hurt said that he would fight tax increases, stop Washington's spending and start creating jobs. Hurt was viewed as the GOP establishment candidate in the Republican primary and was not enthusiastically supported by the Tea Party movement. But Hurt won the Republican nomination with 48 percent of the vote, easily defeating six other candidates.