A Democratic challenger who has raised and spent more than any candidate in Virginia’s 5th District this cycle has dropped out of the race to unseat freshman Republican Rep. Tom Garrett.
Roger Dean “RD” Huffstetler, who spent nearly three-quarters of the roughly $1.1 million he raised through the first filing quarter, according to the Federal Elections Commission records, suspended his campaign Thursday and announced he is endorsing Democratic primary opponent Leslie Cockburn.
“Democrats in the Fifth District have made it loud and clear through local caucuses that they want Leslie Cockburn to be our nominee to take on Tom Garrett this fall,” Huffstetler said in a statement. “Leslie worked extremely hard to earn that distinction, achieving viability in all 23 localities and winning an outright majority of delegates. She and her team are to be congratulated on executing on their strategy with precision and enthusiasm.”
Democrats in the district have opted not to hold a primary. Instead, the nominee will be chosen at a nominating convention this Saturday. Huffstetler has encouraged his delegates to coalesce behind Cockburn, a journalist and filmmaker.
Members of the moderate New Democrat Coalition had high hopes for Huffstetler to help flip the mostly rural 5th District this November.
He was one of the first 16 candidates endorsed by the coalition’s political arm, NewDemPac, which donated the maximum $5,000 to his primary campaign.
Garrett, a member of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus, is one of the most conservative lawmakers in Washington.
Huffstetler used the incumbent’s association with the group as a plea for his supporters to rally behind Cockburn.
“The House Freedom Caucus is a cancer on our country,” the former candidate said, “and we must do everything we can to make Tom Garrett a one-term congressman.”
Beating Garrett could be a tall order for Democrats in a district President Donald Trump carried by 11 points in 2016. Garrett defeated Democrat Jane Dittmar by 17 points that year.