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Rep. Denver Riggleman blames fraud at GOP convention after losing nod for second term

Trump-backed Virginia freshman says he’s ‘evaluating all our options’

Virginia Rep. Denver Riggleman rides in the back of a pickup truck Saturday to cast his vote in the Republican convention in the 5th District, a drive-thru event due to the coronavirus pandemic, held at the Tree Of Life Ministries church in Lynchburg.
Virginia Rep. Denver Riggleman rides in the back of a pickup truck Saturday to cast his vote in the Republican convention in the 5th District, a drive-thru event due to the coronavirus pandemic, held at the Tree Of Life Ministries church in Lynchburg. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Virginia Rep. Denver Riggleman became the third House member rejected by his party for another term this year, losing the 5th District Republican convention Saturday to Bob Good, a former Liberty University athletics director who says he is “committed to the country’s founding Judeo-Christian values.” 

Good said he captured 58 percent of the vote at the drive-thru convention, which was held in the parking lot of a church in Campbell County, where he once served as supervisor. Delegates cast votes from their cars to avoid exposure to the coronavirus, but after the convention ended at 7 p.m., counting was done behind closed doors and results were not announced until after 1 a.m Sunday. At one point, a Riggleman consultant said the campaign was challenging votes cast from Campbell County.

Shortly after midnight, Riggleman tweeted that “voting irregularities and ballot stuffing” were reported in multiple counties, that fraud was “a hallmark of this nomination process,” and that his campaign was “evaluating all our options at this time.”

“That’s what losers say,” Good told reporters early Sunday in a news conference carried on Facebook Live. “We won by a convincing margin, so I think that makes that ring particularly hollow.”

Official results released by the Republican committee in the district Sunday showed Riggelman getting 1,020 votes to Good’s 1,517. Convention rules weighted votes differently based on the GOP voting history of the voter’s home county, so when the weights for the 23 counties covered by the district were applied, Riggelman’s share came to 546 votes to Good’s 758.

Riggleman’s ouster comes after infighting between powerful religious conservatives in the sprawling Virginia district — some angered by Riggleman’s decision to officiate a gay wedding last summer — and those who say the party needs to diversify and move to the center to survive in a purple state. 

The dispute has also attracted the attention of Democrats who have said a loss by Riggleman could help swing the district their way in November. 

Good told CQ Roll Call last year that he was a “constitutional conservative” who would do a better job than Riggleman, an Air Force veteran and the owner of a whisky distillery, of “representing the conservative values of the district.” 

He cited several of Riggleman’s positions that he said were too liberal or reflected “tepid support” of President Donald Trump, including the incumbent’s support for banking legislation that would make it easier for legal marijuana businesses to work with financial institutions and his vote with Democrats in October to condemn the withdrawal of American troops from Syria. 

Trump endorsement didn’t help

Riggleman had Trump’s endorsement, along with those of influential Washington conservatives such as House Freedom Caucus Chairman Andy Biggs and founding member Jim Jordan. He also had support from Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. Falwell’s brother backed Good, as did former GOP Rep. Tom Garrett, who represented the district for one term before Riggleman. 

Trump tweeted his support of Riggelman in December, but the president did not renew it in the days before Saturday’s convention. Trump’s reelection campaign had sent out a news release earlier this month saying his congressional endorsements had a “perfect record of 64-0,” so Riggleman’s loss would break that streak.

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Liberty University, an evangelical institution in Lynchburg, is deeply connected to Christian conservatives. Good worked there for 14 years, where he served as the executive director of the Flames Club, the athletics department’s fundraising program. 

Censure effort followed wedding

Riggleman said he was clear about his libertarian-leaning positions when he originally clinched the party’s nomination two years ago. He beat religious conservative Cynthia Dunbar by one vote at an emergency meeting held to replace Garrett, who had announced he was an alcoholic and would not seek reelection

Some of Dunbar’s supporters led efforts to have Riggleman censured by the party after he officiated the wedding. They also worked on Good’s campaign. 

Riggleman pointed to those connections as evidence that his opponents had inappropriate sway over the party’s nominating process. He had argued that the nominee should be selected through a primary, which would be open to a larger pool of voters. To participate in the convention, delegates had to apply for approval from district-level party officials and, in some cases, drive for hours to cast their votes. 

Virginia’s 5th District, the largest in the state, stretches from the Washington, D.C., exurbs to the North Carolina border. 

Democrats had hoped to flip the seat in 2018, and the campaign featured a memorable attack line that Riggleman, who wrote a book about the Bigfoot monster, was a fan of “Bigfoot erotica.” But Riggleman pulled through with 53 percent over journalist and filmmaker Leslie Cockburn.

This time around, four Democrats are running for the seat: three Marine veterans, including one who talks openly about her sexual assault and another who served as chief of staff to former 2020 presidential candidate Rep. Seth Moulton, and a doctor who has been treating victims of the coronavirus.

Republican voters arrive Saturday to vote in the Republican convention for Virginia’s 5th District in Lynchburg, Va. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Democrats are holding a primary on June 23 to decide their nomination. Trump carried the district by 11 points in 2016. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the general election Solid Republican. 

Two other House members have lost primaries this year: Iowa Republican Steve King on June 3 and Illinois Democrat Daniel Lipinski on March 17. Such losses are rare: Four incumbents lost primaries in the 2018 election cycle and three in 2016.

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