QUOTE OF THE DAY…. The Washington Post reports today on Republican efforts to win four traditionally-GOP-leaning congressional seats in Virginia, currently held by Democrats. Of particular interest is Tom Perriello in Virginia’s 5th.

Thanks to a surge of voters in Charlottesville, a left-leaning college town, Perriello eked out a 727-vote victory over right-wing incumbent Virgil Goode (R). Well aware that turnout will be weaker in a midterm election, Republicans immediately put the Virginian at the top of their 2010 target list. Most campaign watchers expect Perriello to lose.

And to that end, attack ads have been airing against Perriello all year, and the Tea Party crowd has been organizing actively against him. One might expect, under these circumstances, to see the freshman lawmaker moving quickly to the right in order to keep his job. Perriello doesn’t see it that way.

Perriello said there is a difference between being targeted and being vulnerable, and he said his support for health-care and energy reform are not as out of touch with his constituents as his opponents say. But even he seemed to acknowledge the challenge of winning next year as he described how he has sought to govern since taking office in January.

“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.”

My ultimate goal is not to get reelected.” Perriello believes he was elected to do a job, not to position himself for future elections. He’s decided to do the right thing for his constituents by voting for the economic recovery package, health care reform, and cap and trade, even if they’re not popular in his district.

The usual model tells lawmakers to vote in such a way as to keep power, even if lawmakers know better. Perriello thinks it’s more important to use power than to keep it. This is rare and admirable quality.

This is a quality that voters tend to overlook, swayed more by 30-second ads and robocalls than principled leadership. It no doubt contributes to the efficacy of Congress, or lack thereof.

And as long as we’re talking about Perriello, I’d be remiss if I neglected to mention this profile from Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick from last year:

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.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.