Goode Riddance

GOODE RIDDANCE…. There were some incumbent House Republicans that Democrats had really hoped to beat this year, but came up just short. Republicans like Minnesota’s Michelle Bachmann, Alabama’s Mike Rogers, and Washington’s Dave Reichert, for example, faced very strong challengers, but won re-election by narrow margins.

On the other hand, Democrats successfully defeated some key GOP targets, en route to expanding their majority by about 20 seats. Congress will bid adieu to, among others, Idaho’s Bill Sali, Colorado’s Marilyn Musgrave, Connecticut’s Chris Shays, Virginia’s Thelma Drake, Ohio’s Steve Chabot, North Carolina’s Robin Hayes, and a pair of Floridians — Ric Keller and Tom Feeney — all of whom were considered vulnerable.

But perhaps no House contest in the country was as satisfying for Democrats as the race in Virginia’s 5th congressional district, where right-wing incumbent Virgil Goode faced off against Tom Perriello, in a challenge few thought would be competitive. Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick has the story.

It’s been Virgil Goode country since 1997 — Goode being the congressman whose re-election campaign was predicated on insulting immigrants, Muslims, the mentally ill, homosexuals, teenagers, Northerners, and, eventually, pretty much everyone, in as many different ways as possible. In August, polls showed Perriello running 30 points behind Goode, who, right up until the night before the election, refused to learn how to pronounce his opponent’s name. […]

Here in Virginia, when Democrats talk about [Perriello], cartoon birds sing and cartoon butterflies play small cartoon harps. A graduate of Yale College and Yale Law School, Perriello worked to end atrocities in Liberia as well as with child soldiers, amputees, and local pro-democracy groups in Sierra Leone. He became special adviser for the international prosecutor during the showdown that forced Liberian dictator Charles Taylor from power. His work as a security analyst has taken him to Afghanistan and Darfur. Perriello has also been a part of a groundswell of young progressives whose religious faith motivates them to seek social change through public service. One of the most startling aspects of his 2008 campaign was his pledge to tithe 10 percent of his campaign volunteers’ time to local charities. Time they could have spent stuffing mailers and phone-banking went to building houses for the poor.

“Ours is a community-service generation,” he says. “Our background is in not-for-profits, the netroots, and problem solving. We understand that the big divisions in America are not even about politics; it’s a whole new way of thinking that throws traditional politics out the window.” Perriello says he was warned not to talk about Darfur in the rural South but did it anyhow. When the Goode campaign got snarled up in controversy over a gay art film last month, Perriello didn’t go there. Why not? “That’s old politics. People are smarter and better than the media thinks,” he says, promptly apologizing for insulting my profession. “We didn’t run ads with Darth Vader voices, and my favorite conversations have been with people who told me they voted for Virgil but still loved the way I campaigned.”

Enough voters felt the same way to propel Perriello to a very narrow victory. Goode may have never bothered to learn his opponent’s name, but it’s a name the political world would be wise to remember.