CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The commonwealth of Virginia is riddled with battlefields from centuries of American conflict, a fact hammered home on the journey here from Washington, D.C., as it passes through the site of the Battle of Chancellorsville and the Battle of the Wilderness, two turning points of the Civil War.
And while it might be straining the metaphor a bit, let there be no doubt of the battleground status of Virginia in the 2012 battle for the presidency and the Senate, as President Barack Obama and Virginia Senate candidate Tim Kaine came here to fire up voters at nTelos Wireless Pavilion.
Saying he had been struck by the "doom and gloom" coming out of the Republican convention in Tampa, Fla., Kaine fully embraced the Obama administration, particularly health care reform, to the estimated crowd of 7,500. "We can't afford to go back, and we're not going back," said Kaine, the former governor and Democratic National Committee chairman, adding, "If I'm elected Senator, Virginia will not go back, and the nation will not go back."
Virginia Senate candidate Tim Kaine rallies voters in Charlottesville, Va., at the nTelos Wireless Pavilion with President Barack Obama and former Rep. Tom Perriello. (Jason Dick/CQ Roll Call)
Obama came on the stage to deafening cheers. Extolling his administration's push on health care and student loans, Obama tried out a line that seemed to be designed to counter the "You didn't build that" line he uttered in Virginia earlier this year that Republicans have used to mock and criticize him. "You made that happen," Obama said several times, perhaps a nod to his background as a community organizer.
"Don't boo. Vote," Obama said, when he mentioned the GOP convention and the crowd responded with boos. "It's entertaining," Obama said of the Republican gathering.
President Barack Obama spoke to an estimated crowd of 7,500 at the nTelos Wireless Pavilion in Charlottesville, Va., today. (Jason Dick/CQ Roll Call)
Obama's appearance on the trail this week at college towns, including Ames, Iowa; Fort Collins, Colo., and Charlottesville, is a bit of a departure from unofficial campaign protocol. In recent years, during a party's nominating convention, the opposition's nominee has for the most part kept a low profile.
Scores poured into the multi-purpose outdoor venue — it will host rock star Jack White next month — early to listen to bluegrass band the New Best Recipe and a recorded playlist that included Wilco, Al Green and Arcade Fire that regular members of the White House press corps have grown familiar with over the past few months.
Despite the setting so close to the University of Virginia, the crowd was not uniformly college-age but a mix of young, middle-aged, old, black, Hispanic and white.
Former Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.), who represented the area in the 111th Congress but lost his bid for re-election in 2010, was on hand to help introduce Obama. The last time the two men stood on the same stage in Charlottesville was days before the 2010 election, when the president came to rally voters on Perriello's behalf.
Perriello, now president of the Center for American Progress’ advocacy unit, the Center for American Progress Action Fund, introduced Kaine and took the opportunity to criticize his former House colleague, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the GOP vice presidential nominee. Ryan will deliver his acceptance speech to the Tampa GOP convention later tonight.
"I do agree with Mitt Romney about one thing. Paul Ryan is the intellectual leader of the Republican Party," Perriello said, and then went on to launch broadsides at Ryan's plans for reforming Medicare, among other issues that divide the parties. Romney, Perriello said, was the "only" person who could have said about Ryan: "I want to hire the brains behind that operation."
Former Rep. Tom Perriello joined President Barack Obama and Virginia Senate candidate Tim Kaine to rally voters in Charlottesville, Va. (Jason Dick/CQ Roll Call)
Perriello also took a few digs at Kaine's opponent, former Sen. George Allen (R-Va.). During Allen's short tenure in the U.S. House in the 1990s, before he was elected governor, he represented the Charlottesville area.
"George Allen, I have more to say about than I have time allotted here today," Perriello said, before turning back to praise Kaine.
"There are few people I've ever met in any walk of life who are more honorable and decent and more willing to lead and make difficult decisions and understand the concept of serving others than our former governor and our next United States Senator, Tim Kaine," Perriello said to cheers from the crowd.