WASHINGTON ― Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren endorsed Tom Perriello in the Democratic primary for Virginia governor on Monday in an interview with HuffPost, giving the insurgent progressive candidate an important boost in a race that has become increasingly competitive.
When Perriello, a former congressman from Charlottesville, jumped into the Democratic race in January against Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, he was seen as a late entrant with little chance at the nomination. But with the mood of the Democratic electorate rising against President Donald Trump, Perriello, a populist who has made standing up to Trump central to his campaign, has surged in the polls.
Warren said she had tried to coax Perriello to join her at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau after he lost his re-election to Congress in 2010. “I actually tried to hire him a long time ago,” she said. “So, when I was setting up the consumer agency ... I took advantage, or tried to take advantage, of some really strong people who had been in elective office and lost.”
Richard Cordray, now director of the CFPB, was another such ex-office holder. “I thought Tom Perriello would be terrific, too,” Warren said. “He’s strong, he’s aggressive on consumer issues, and I really wanted him to come and be one of the major people running the CFPB. Now, he decided he wanted to take a different direction and he said with regret ― at least I hope it was with regret ― that he couldn’t come and join us at the agency and he headed off and did some work in Africa, and I really respect what he has done. He’s an exciting guy.”
Warren spoke to HuffPost as part of a book tour for the release of her This Fight Is Our Fight, which has soared to the top of the charts.
Warren was the intellectual godmother of the CFPB, conjuring it up in an article for the journal Democracy, and then working to usher it through Congress as an outside agitator. Perriello served in Congress the year the agency was created, and was a strong backer. Warren was named temporary head of the agency to get it off the ground.
Perriello, after Congress, worked for the political arm of the Democratic think tank Center for American Progress, and then became a diplomat, focusing on peace negotiations in the Great Lakes region of Africa.
“I think that if he’s governor, he would be terrific,” Warren said. “He’s a guy with values. He’s practical, he’s pragmatic, that’s why I wanted him at the agency. He’s the kind of guy who says, ‘I am going to make change and I’m going to make change not for the richest, not for the most powerful, not for what’s politically expedient. I want to make change for hard-working families.’”
Given the vibrancy of the Democratic Party’s activist wing, both candidates in the Virginia race have fought to stake out the most progressive flank, with Northam highlighting Perriello’s squishy past on reproductive freedom, for which he has since apologized, saying his views have evolved. But the endorsement of Warren follows the backing of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and gives Perriello a clear path to claim the populist-progressive mantle in the race. Perriello was endorsed last week by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which backs liberal candidates in primaries and general elections.
Perriello was quick to embrace the endorsement by Warren. “Students, workers and consumers have always had a champion in Sen. Warren, a movement leader who has spent her career fighting to protect us from corporate greed and crushing debt,” he said in a statement forwarded by his campaign spokesperson. “She led the 2014 fight that would have allowed 629,000 Virginians to refinance their federal student loans, and she created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which protects Virginia families from predatory lenders and abuses by credit card and mortgage companies. I’m proud to have her support in my progressive campaign to raise wages, make college more affordable, and put consumers ahead of unchecked greed, so that no Virginia family is left behind.”
Northam, meanwhile, has the backing of Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a close ally of Hillary Clinton, as well as Virginia Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, and much of the rest of the Virginia Democratic political establishment. Term limits prevent McAuliffe from seeking re-election.
To have Sanders and Warren backing a candidate against the one supported by the state’s home senators, both Democrats as well, is an unusual situation, but it reflects the way that the national debate over the future of the party can’t be avoided at the state level. Or, as we learned last week, not in Omaha, either.