ROANOKE — Cameron Webb emerged the winner of a four-way competition to determine the Democratic nominee for the open congressional race in central Virginia.
Webb, an internal medicine doctor and director of health policy and equity at the University of Virginia, swept the Democratic primary on Tuesday with more than 26,800 votes, accounting for 68% of the vote with nearly all of the precincts reported.
Claire Russo, a Marine veteran from Albemarle County, came in second with 19% of the vote. Roger Dean “RD” Huffstetler, a former Marine and entrepreneur who ran for the same seat two years ago but didn’t win the party nod, followed in third with 8%. And John Lesinski, a Marine veteran and former Rappahannock County supervisor who works in commercial real estate, trailed in fourth with 5%.
“We’re in a moment as a nation,” Webb said Tuesday night. “We’re facing a global health pandemic, crisis of racial injustice, and you layer on top of that inequities in education, health care, criminal justice, employment, people heard in our message something that spoke to them.”
Virginians who went to the polls found extra safety measures in place because of the coronavirus. Bottles of hand sanitizer and wipes sat on tables. Poll workers wearing face masks regularly sanitized the voting stations.
The Virginia Department of Elections encouraged people to vote absentee in order to avoid a large number of people at the polls. Virginians cast more than 13,800 absentee ballots in the Democratic primary in the 5th District, according to an analysis of data from the Virginia Public Access Project.
Webb will take on Republican Bob Good, a former Campbell County supervisor and Liberty University employee, in November. Good ousted Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Nelson, more than a week ago at an unusual drive-thru convention. Good describes himself as a “bright red Biblical and constitutional conservative” with tough stances on immigration and social issues.
Democrats are hoping to take advantage of the fractured Republicans in central Virginia after the controversial convention. Riggleman was popular among many Republicans, but social conservatives took issue with his positions on immigration and abortion and were particularly upset when he officiated a same-sex wedding last summer. Riggleman has not conceded, and his campaign has said he will not support Good’s candidacy.
Good also still has to deal with a problem with his paperwork to get onto the November ballot. He filed his candidacy forms past the deadline, so the Virginia Board of Elections will decide July 7 whether to accept his late paperwork.
The 5th Congressional District is Virginia’s largest district, stretching from Fauquier County to the North Carolina border and including Franklin County and part of Bedford County.
Political analysts at Cook Political Report and “Crystal Ball” at the University of Virginia’s Center of Politics had moved the race from likely Republican to lean Republican.
House Democrats are targeting the 5th District again this year. Democrats tried to flip the seat two years ago with candidate Leslie Cockburn, who raised more money than Riggleman but lost with 47% of the vote.
Webb brings with him an impressive biography. He grew up in Spotsylvania County. After earning a bachelor’s degree, law degree and medical degree, Webb served on President Barack Obama’s health care team and worked on Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper, a White House initiative to address opportunity gaps boys and young men of color face.
Still, it will be an uphill battle for Webb. The last time a Democrat won the seat was in 2008, when Tom Perriello upset incumbent Republican Virgil Goode, aided by record-high African American turnout in Charlottesville and the small rural towns in the 5th District as well as Barack Obama’s run for president.
Perriello lasted only one term. Redistricting has made the district more favorable to Republicans.
“We won in 2008 because of the mobilization of Black voters, and then the district was redrawn to make it harder to win,” Webb said last week. “So you need that mobilization even more now. My engagement with the Black community has been lifelong. And it’s been deeds, not words.”
Webb, who is Black, has made energizing Black voters a priority for him. He regularly brings up that 33,000 registered Black voters didn’t vote in the 2018 election, and 38,000 Black residents in the district aren’t registered to vote.
“People have eyes and ears, and they’re listening to something that connects,” Webb said Tuesday. “I have a message about unity, about equity, justice and inclusion, and that’s where people are in this district and this country right now. And there’s going to be a sharp rebuke of people who don’t believe in inclusion and creating opportunities for everybody. That’s what’s on the ballot in November.”