Obama in rare, late campaign stop for congressman

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia (Reuters) - President Barack Obama exhorted voters to keep faith in his policy agenda in a campaign stop on Friday for a Virginia congressman he has praised as one of his Democratic Party’s most courageous politicians.

Obama flew to central Virginia for a rally on behalf of Tom Perriello, a first-term Democratic congressman who is in a tough re-election fight, two years after winning his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives by just 727 votes.

“In four days, you have the chance to set the direction of this state and of this country, not just for the next two years, but for the next 10 years and the next 20 years. You can defy the conventional wisdom,” Obama told a crowd of several thousand people in downtown Charlottesville.

The Friday evening event was the first time during the midterm election campaign that Obama has appeared at a rally for an individual House candidate, a White House spokesman said.

On November 2, Americans will vote for all 435 members of the House and 37 of the 100 members in the Senate.

Most polls have Perriello trailing his Republican rival, Virginia state Senator Robert Hurt, by anywhere from 1 percent to 6 percent.

Perriello is from Charlottesville, a city of about 42,000 that is home to the University of Virginia. Obama’s speech, a few miles from the campus, was intended to energize the young voters who helped propel him to the presidency.

Perriello’s race has risen to national prominence in recent weeks as Obama has praised the 36-year-old, considered one of the House’s staunchest progressives, and a few other representatives, repeatedly for having the courage to vote for some of his least popular proposals, such as his economic stimulus plan and healthcare overhaul.

Unlike some other congressional Democrats in a season when the party is expected to lose badly to Republicans, Perriello has not tried to distance himself from Obama’s policies.

“We always say we want integrity from our elected officials. And you know what? This is a test case in Charlottesville,” Obama said.

Without naming him, Obama mentioned Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s recent statement that making Obama a one-term president would be his highest priority. “That’s the kind of cynicism we’re fighting against. That’s the kind of politics we need to change in this country,” Obama said.

And he struck a somber note as he urged the crowd to go to the polls on Tuesday.

“Sometimes because of all the special interest money pouring in, all the negative ads, all the clout, sometimes folks who are operating in the best interests of their constituents, sometimes they don’t win,” he said.

“Because folks don’t turn out, because folks don’t vote, because folks feel like this is just too hard,” he said.

In 2008, Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Virginia in more than 40 years, but he did not win the majority of votes in Perriello’s largely conservative district, which has pockets of some of the highest unemployment in Virginia.

Editing by Stacey Joyce