Nationwide, primary campaigns have been upended by the coronavirus pandemic, but for the two Republican candidates in Virginia’s 5th congressional district the challenge is more complicated.
The 5th District Republican Committee has yet to reschedule caucuses and a convention, but results could upset the freshman incumbent Rep. Denver Riggleman. His challenger, Bob Good, a former associate athletics director at Liberty University who has said Riggleman has “betrayed the trust” of conservatives, claims to have enough delegates to unseat him.
Riggleman’s campaign refutes that statement, but the defense contractor does say growing congressional responsibilities and social distancing requirements have made campaigning difficult.
Riggleman, who began his first term in 2019 after Tom Garrett decided not to run for re-election, said he has largely taken a step back from campaigning as his congressional duties grew amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“Campaigning went to the side when the pandemic started,” he said. “Just this week I visited the COVID-19 ward at the University of Virginia Medical Center and they’re doing great work, but this pandemic is a serious threat.”
As a member of the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services, Riggleman said among the biggest challenges he’s faced is trying to find a way to help individuals and businesses affected by the pandemic.
Riggleman said he is proud to be part of passing the CARES Act, a $2.2 trillion relief package that provides small business grants, direct payments to individuals and families, extended unemployment benefits and funding for hospitals and medical supply procurement.
Riggleman said he has received an outpouring of concern from constituents, who are scared not only for their health but also for their financial future.
In such a difficult time, he said a nomination method that allows for the most participation safely is important.
“We’ll go with whatever nomination method is selected — we’re confident in our campaign — but safety is a primary concern,” he said. “I’m not trying to force politics into this, but during such a trying time, we should be doing everything we can to ensure that everyone who wants to vote can do so in a safe way.”
The district Republicans had originally planned for caucuses leading to a convention on April 25. The less-common nomination method relies on human contact, creating a major issue for the 5th District Republican committee amid social distancing requirements.
The convention has been delayed, according to Melvin Adams, chairman of the 5th District Republican Committee, but a new date has not yet been set.
Tuesday, the 7th District Republican committee, which is also nominating via a convention, filed a complaint against the Virginia Department of Elections and State Board of Elections, requesting a temporary injunction that extends the deadline for nominating past June 9.
The filing cites Gov. Ralph Northam’s executive order forbidding gatherings of 10 or more, which is in effect through June 10, safety concerns and an inability to obtain insurance for a convention or committee vote.
Wednesday, Northam announced a postponement of June primaries to June 23.
Though the 5th District Republican Committee has not yet taken the same steps as the 7th District, Adams said it is something that all 11 GOP districts with conventions are keeping an eye on.
“Every district that has a convention, and especially those which include congressional races, are very interested in the 7th’s case,” he said. “We all need relief due to the interference and impact of the pandemic and the governor’s orders on the set political calendar. We expect accommodation under the circumstances.”
Good said he is supportive of continuing with a convention, provided safety precautions are taken and the integrity of the electoral process is upheld. Good said he supports is moving the convention to a later date that would allow more participation.
Like every campaign across the nation, Good has faced the challenge of transitioning a primarily virtual campaign, but said he is confident in his support.
“We’ve seen an unprecedented degree of participation, far exceeding the number of individuals who signed up to be delegates in the last contested election in 2016,” he said. “You obviously miss the interpersonal contact and that’s hard to duplicate that through the phone or video but we have been overwhelmed by the response to our true conservative campaign.”
Good claims that 3,500 people who have registered as delegates — approximately 60% of the total — have registered to support his campaign, a claim the Riggleman campaign refutes.
Good said the pandemic has exacerbated problems he sees in federal governance and spending. He said he has some issues with how the CARES Act was passed, which he characterized as having a “shotgun nature” that includes things from the “Democrat’s agenda.”
“I do think it’s unfortunate that we passed this package with a simple voice vote; I don’t think that’s constitutional and it is a dereliction of duty,” he said. “Additionally, the $1,200 checks are not as precision targeted as they should be, going to individuals who are not affected by the virus the same as they go to folks who are.”
The 5th District Republican committee is set to discuss a new convention date during a telephonic meeting Sunday evening.