Monday, June 15, 2020

In Virginia, Goodbye Denver Riggleman, Hello Democrats

Virginia's 5th District Congressman, Republican Denver Riggleman, did a nice thing, officiating at the same-sex marriage for a couple of his campaign aids, and for that piece of outrageous tolerance he was ousted by some 2,400 unamused delegates to the Republican 5th District Convention on Saturday. Bob Good, a former athletics official at Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Liberty University who describes himself as a “biblical conservative,” beat Riggleman, who was said to have a libertarian streak but who promptly joined the Freedom Caucus in the House when he took office back in January 2019. But Bob Good captured 58 percent of the anti-gay marriage vote in a "drive by" Republican convention (no clue how a drive-by convention works, except that it would be good for throwing stones).

I followed that 2018 election in the 5th District of Virginia because I was fascinated by the Democratic candidate Leslie Cockburn. She had had a primary opponent in Roger Dean Huffstetler, a clean-cut ex-Marine who has a personal grudge against the opioid epidemic (his father died of an oxycontin overdose) and who talked the language of land and family while operating as an ambitious, well-connected entrepreneur -- Harvard Business School, Silicon Valley. He started running for Congress less than two years after moving to Charlottesville, and he spent big in 2018. Huffstetler, reading the room and understanding that Leslie Cockburn was going to win it, dropped out of the running just prior to the May 2018 nominating caucus. At the time I called that a "class act" on Huffstetler's part, giving him every benefit of the doubt. Leslie Cockburn went on to lose the general election to the now disgraced Riggleman, getting 46.8% to Riggleman's 53.2% of the vote.

Huffstetler's back this year, running again in a crowded primary next Tuesday, June 23 (this time an open voting primary -- Virginia has weird options), and the field he's up against once again is mighty interesting. Huffstetler has put health care at the top of his agenda, and there's real competition for that issue among his primary opponents. The only consideration, though: Can one of these Democrats beat a Bible-spoutin' Republican for an open seat in this "likely Republican" district (Cook) which nevertheless contains Charlottesville and the University of Virginia, but in the year when rural folk are stirred up for Trump's triumph? Which one of these could overcome all odds?

Cameron Webb

Let's go straight to the website: "After graduating from UVA and getting [both] his medical and law degrees, Cameron was tapped by President Obama for the White House Fellowship. He served on the White House Health Care Team and also worked on President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, where he helped tackle issues in education, workforce development and criminal justice reform."

Impressed yet? "A practicing physician, Cameron returned to Charlottesville where he treats patients as a general internist, teaches students and serves as the Director of Health Policy and Equity at UVA’s School of Medicine. His wife, Dr. Leigh-Ann Webb, is an ER doctor who grew up in Appomattox County. They reside in Albemarle County where they raise their two children, Avery and Lennox."

Expanding health care to everyone is his prime driver, and he has fairly moderate views based on experience and knowledge.

I like his political savvy: “ is a mistake to say that the 5th District is heavily Republican.” Instead, he explained, Democratic candidates should focus on outreach to district residents who usually do not vote at all, especially African Americans. “Field a full team,” he said. “Expand the electorate.” There's clearly an electorate in that swath of Virginia ripe for expansion.

But will rural white Virginians elect a black man, even one as accomplished as Cameron Webb? I think it's wholly feasible, maybe even for a district that still contains moonshine capital Franklin County.

John Lesinski

Lesinski, like Huffstetler, is a retired Marine. His major distinction: He's alone among all the candidates for his actually having been elected to office, as both a school board member and a county supervisor in Rappanhannock County.

He's running as the moderate and seems to believe fervently in the Chuck Todd Theory that there are just oodles of Republican and Independent voters out there in a conservative district like the Virginia Fifth just waiting for a decent and moderate Democrat to vote for as a relief from the indecencies of the Trump presidency. “I feel that now there are moderates and independents who would consider voting across the aisle, who feel left behind by their party,” he saidDr. Rachel Bitecofer demolishes the Chuck Todd Theory of the great swing vote, but there are always Democratic candidates who hitch their fortunes to being agreeable to the opposition.

Lesinski expressed support for moving toward a single-payer health care system eventually, although he argued that building on the Affordable Care Act would be more politically feasible in the short term. Regardless of the mechanism, he said, “I believe health care is a right, not a privilege.”

Claire Russo

More wealth of ex-Marine Corps experience. Claire Russo "served as an Intelligence Officer in the First Marine Expeditionary Force and the First Marine Air Wing. She deployed to Fallujah, Iraq where she led a team of Marines targeting insurgent networks. Claire continued her service after the Marines, working as a civilian with the Army. In this capacity, she deployed to Afghanistan and served as a counter insurgency adviser to the infantry. Following her work with the Army, Claire served on General Petraeus’s counter insurgency advisory team where she evaluated the training and employment of female engagement teams and their support of special operations forces in Afghanistan." [website]

Good Lord, the talent running for Congress in the Virginia 5th this year! She's making gun control a central issue, a risky proposition for rural Virginia, but look at this: "She likened her stance on gun policy to the laws surrounding driving a car. When speaking to gun-owning rural voters, she said, she emphasizes that 'I absolutely respect his right to own a gun, but it has to be safe and not hurt other people.'

"She would support legislation requiring background checks on every firearm transfer and the creation of so-called 'red flag' laws, a mechanism by which police or individuals can petition a court to remove temporarily an individual’s firearms if that individual is deemed to represent a threat to public safety. She elaborated later, 'It is unacceptable that people convicted of domestic violence can continue to possess guns.' ”

Will that fly? Dunno, but we'll soon know which of these Democrats will get to take on Bob Good for this now open House seat.


Unknown said...

As a voter in the 5th, we are indeed blessed to have such a group of candidates. This is the second election in a row where we have a good crop of candidates. If I had to handicap the race, I would say that RD and Cameron are the front runners. I would say that Claire has had a pretty significant presence on TV. Her one disadvantage is that she entered the race later than the others and hasn't been to all 23 localities in Virginia's largest geographic congressional district. I'm in Franklin County (moonshine capital) and while the others have been here multiple times, she has not.
The Good factor makes this a different race and with the outside prospect that Riggleman may launch an independent run, who knows? I've decided to support Webb (though I like RD a lot) because I believe he might be able to bring out the "hidden" Democratic vote and generate interest in the minority communities that are key to any chance to win.

J.W. Williamson said...

Thank you so much for your on-the-ground insight. An informed voice from inside the district means so much more than umpteen commentaries by people not on the ground there.