WASHINGTON -- With John Douglass now the presumptive Democratic nominee in Virginia's 5th Congressional District, prominent party leaders are finally jumping in to endorse.
The most high-profile endorsement on Wednesday came from the former congressman in that district, Tom Perriello, a champion of progressives. His mother, Linda Perriello, read a statement of endorsement from her son at a press event in downtown Charlottesville, urging residents to vote for Douglass.
After a strong showing in a series of non-binding Democratic caucuses in late April, Douglass appeared to have secured the Democratic nomination. That was solidified when his primary competitor, Peyton Williams, suspended his campaign on Saturday.
Douglass' role as a Civil War re-enactor and founder of a local confederate battery sparked considerable controversy, with one local leader telling HuffPost that the confederate flag gives her flashbacks to Civil Rights-era beatings of black leaders.
Before the fight for the Democratic nomination in the congressional district had been settled, Williams' campaign manager, Erin Monaghan, criticized those who "re-fight the battles" of the past. "Virginia is a proud state with a painful history," Monaghan said in a statement in early April. "It's important for Democrats to focus on the issues of the 21st century rather than joining those who want to re-fight the battles of the 19th century."
On Wednesday, Williams issued his own endorsement of Douglass, urging his supporters to get behind the Democratic candidate in order to defeat incumbent Rep. Robert Hurt (R) in November.
"I am here today for the same reason I have been out campaigning for the last three months: We need to replace Robert Hurt as our representative in Virginia's 5th District," said Williams in prepared remarks. "Just about anyone here today would be a better choice for that job than Mr. Hurt."
Virginia House of Delegates Minority Leader David Toscano (D-Charlottesville) and state Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) also offered supportive written remarks, underscoring the high stakes for Virginia Democrats.
"John cannot win in November without the strength and support of those who wish to send common sense and strong leadership back to Congress," they said in a statement. "With only six months to the election, Peyton's presence here with John underscores the importance of working together to elect John as our next congressman."
Virginia's 5th District is a tough seat for Democrats to win. Given unfavorable redistricting, it's even harder to win now than in 2008, when Perriello eked out a narrow victory. Hurt defeated Perriello in 2010. Larger than the state of New Jersey, the district stretches from the central Virginia liberal oasis of Charlottesville through miles of deeply conservative, predominantly white farmland.
Race will be a volatile issue higher up on the ticket in Virginia come November. Former Gov. Tim Kaine (D) is running for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.). Kaine's Republican opponent, former Sen. George Allen, was ousted from office in 2006 after referring to S.R. Sidarth, an Indian-American Democratic tracker filming one of his campaign events, as a "macaca," a comment that revealed other controversies, including an office adorned with a confederate flag and a noose. What's more, the progressive votes in Charlottesville, including its 20 percent black population, will be critical for President Barack Obama's presidential run, which is making a tremendous push for Virginia's 13 electoral votes.
A party convention on May 19 will formally determine the Democratic congressional nominee.
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