VA-5: Riggleman Loss Opens Door to a Competitive Race

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestmail

KEY POINTS FROM THIS ARTICLE

— Rep. Denver Riggleman (R, VA-5) lost a bizarre, drive-through convention held over the weekend.

— We moved the race from Likely Republican to Leans Republican as a result.

Table 1: House ratings change

Member/District Old Rating New Rating
VA-5 Open (Riggleman, R) Likely Republican Leans Republican

Good nomination raises questions about GOP in VA-5

In Virginia’s 5th Congressional District this weekend — where the Center for Politics is located — Republicans voted at a Saturday convention to oust first-term Rep. Denver Riggleman (R, VA-5). In a result that was announced early Sunday morning, the convention voted 58%-42% to nominate Bob Good, a former local official in Campbell County who had previously worked at the evangelical Liberty University.

A libertarian-leaning Republican, Riggleman drew the ire of social conservatives when he officiated a gay wedding last year. Good ran to the right, telling activists, “…we don’t have to settle for purple. We can be bright red.”

Looking at the composition of the district, Good may have a point.

Though VA-5 includes the blue Charlottesville area, it takes in much of Southside Virginia. Southside, which borders North Carolina, has trended red recently, and has traditionally favored conservative populist candidates — George Wallace carried a majority of its counties in 1968, and Oliver North, a controversial Republican who served in the Reagan administration, did well there in his 1994 senatorial bid. In 2008, Democrats flipped the district in the blue wave that year, but it reverted to GOP hands after one term, and red turf has been added since then. More recently, even as Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) was reelected by 16% in 2018, he came up about 2% short in VA-5. Donald Trump carried the district by 11 points in 2016, and it does not profile as the kind of district that would wildly swing against him in November.

That said, we feel Good would be a riskier general election candidate than Riggleman. For one, it isn’t certain he’ll be on the November ballot: he didn’t file the proper paperwork with the Department of Elections in time. While he seems to believe his request to appear on the November ballot will be granted — and it very well could be — these types of mistakes make us wonder if he’s ready for prime time. If Good’s request is denied, he’d still be able to run as a write-in — if it comes to that, Good does have an easy-to-remember last name, and it’s also similar to another recent occupant of VA-5: former Rep. Virgil Goode, a Democrat-turned independent-turned Republican who lost in 2008. Good likely will need to improve his fundraising: He has not raised much, and he now faces a presidential electorate after courting a relatively tiny audience of conservative activists to win the VA-5 nomination.

Though the district leans Republican, Riggleman had a competitive contest in 2018, which he won 53%-47%. So because he’s won a general election, we’d have seen him as the more battle-tested candidate for the fall. Riggleman’s statement after the convention seemed less than conciliatory. The deadline to file to run as an independent technically closed on June 9, but that is the same deadline that Good and VA-7 Republican contender Nick Freitas want the state to extend, under the reasonable logic that the filing deadline should have been moved back when the public health crisis pushed the state to move back the primary two weeks. Virginia’s “sore loser” law is also unclear about the possibility of a convention loser running as an independent. Assuming Riggleman only serves a single term following his convention loss, he’ll be the third VA-5 representative (out of the last four) to serve only a single term in office. So this district is no stranger to change.

With the Democratic primary next week, there’s enough uncertainty on the GOP side that we feel it’s reasonable to move the race from Likely Republican to Leans Republican.