The Perriello Experiment.

In the latest Survey USA poll of Virginia's 5th District, Rep. Tom Perriello trails his Republican opponent, state Sen. Robert Hurt, by more than 25 points:

A new poll in the 5th District Congressional race continues to show a commanding lead for Republican challenger Robert Hurt.

Compared to an identical survey six weeks ago, Hurt has increased his lead over Democratic incumbent Tom Perriello by three points.

If the election were held Thursday, the News7 SurveyUSA poll indicates that Hurt would defeat Perriello 61 percent to 35 percent.

Perriello's tenure as the representative of the 5th District has been something of a test case: Could an unabashedly liberal congressperson survive in a conservative district? Conventional wisdom is for marginal representatives to position themselves against Washington and vote against party priorities whenever the opportunity presented itself. Perriello took the opposite approach; he voted his liberal beliefs and then took the case to the district, arguing forcefully for the rightness of his actions. After his votes on the stimulus, cap-and-trade, and health-care reform, he went straight to the district to talk directly with constituents over how his votes will affect them. Unlike too many other members of Congress, Perriello worked hard and had the right attitude about his job. To borrow a quote from him:

“My ultimate goal is not to get reelected,” he said. “It’s to know that I did the best damn job I could representing the people of the 5th District and making a difference. That’s just a different litmus test than some of the powers that be are used to working with.”

Given the horrible economic conditions in central Virginia, as well as its conservatism, it's no surprise to see that Perriello is on track to lose his race. Granted, he could still pull out a victory -- in 2008, Survey USA had Perriello trailing Virgil Goode by similar numbers -- but it's unlikely. And while Perriello will almost certainly land on his feet if he loses, it will still be a shame to see him leave Congress, since it could use more people with an actual sense of the big picture.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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