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Underdog Perriello spreads his message in Loudoun County

Tom Perriello takes a tour of Catoctin Creek Distillery with owners Scott and Becky Harris. Times-Mirror/Alex Erkiletian
Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Tom Perriello made an appearance in Loudoun County Wednesday, where he spoke of his “real world” experience, progressive policy plans and contrasted himself with Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination.

The former congressman toured Catoctin Creek Distillery to learn about the whiskey production process and hear of the distillery's rapid growth as a small, Virginia-based business.

Perriello said the distillery, which is now exporting to Germany and Singapore, is a thriving example of why there should be more focus on small businesses as opposed always landing the next “mega-corporation.”

The Democratic underdog spoke of the “creativity and trailblazing” he'd seen during his campaign and Wednesday's tour, emphasizing not only the quality of Catoctin's product, but also how the distillery supports local farmers.

He said the American economy needs to create more space “for the little guys to have a shot.”

Perriello, who also worked as a diplomat in the Obama administration, made a surprising entry into the race for governor of Virginia in January. He is thus far the only challenger to Northam, who was previously thought to have a clear path to the the party's nomination in June.

Perriello promotes many of the same policies as Northam -- job creation, making education more affordable and encouraging more apprentices and skilled-based training. But there are differences, notably in his background and career. Perriello spoke of his time as an executive of a nonprofit organization and a peace negotiator in conflict zones.

“I have been in Congress, but I have spent most of my 20 years in the real world, solving problems. Right now Virginia has a lot going for it, but it also has deep challenges including not seeing the kind of growth of the middle class we'd like to see,” he said. “ … We continue to have a criminal code that is one of the more regressive in the country and creates a school-to-prison pipeline.”

Perriello, who represented the Charlottesville area in the House of Representatives from 2009-2011, went on to talk about fiercely resisting “negative politics from Washington.”

Solar energy is a cause close to Perriello's heart, he said, and his distillery tour included seeing the solar panels installed on Catoctin Creek's roof.

“I've spent a lot of my career trying to promote clean energy jobs and efficiency. Today there are more Americans employed in the clean energy sector than the fossil fuel energy sector, but Virginia is way behind on renewable and clean energy,” Perriello said. He added that he sees the clean energy sector as having huge potential for job and efficiency creation in Virginia.

Perriello was in an optimistic mood Tuesday. A mid-February Quinnipiac primary poll showed he and Northam in a dead-heat for the nomination, while a Feb. 2 Christopher Newport University survey put Northam up 11 points.

“My challenge in this primary is not Ralph Northam. It's the fact that so few people even know that this primary is going on,” he said. “When people tune in, we are winning their votes … we are putting forward a much more aggressive policy agenda that actually affects people at the kitchen table. We are focusing not on silly past political divisions but what's going to move Virginia forward.”

Speaking before the tour, Catoctin Creek owners Scott and Becky Harris said they aren't yet endorsing Perriello or Northam, but they were happy to speak with the former congressman about the highs and lows of running a small business and to learn about his campaign message.

Republican candidates for the Virginia gubernatorial nomination are former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie; Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors; State Sen. Frank W. Wagner (R-Virginia Beach); and Denver Riggleman, co-owner of Silverback Distillery in Nelson County.


Progressive…No thank you.

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