ROANOKE — Standing at the top of the steps of the Bedford courthouse on a recent weekday afternoon, 5th Congressional District Republican nominee Bob Good looked out into a small crowd of sheriff’s deputies and supporters holding “Good for Law Enforcement” signs.
“Like you and President Trump, I’m going to have the back of those who wear the badge, and stand in the gap and stand on the wall and form that thin blue line that keeps us safe every day,” Good told the group. “Sadly, my opponent has stood with the radical left. He’s marched with that radical, Marxist BLM organization.”
Trump has been emphasizing since this summer that he’s the president of “law and order” who will be tough on crime while, he says, big cities led by Democrats are overrun by mobs. Good latched onto that strategy, accusing his opponent, Democrat Cameron Webb, of being a “radical” who will defund the police.
The issue has led to a clash between the two candidates in the competitive race in the Central Virginia district, with television ads, mailers and events attacking one another.
“It’s unfortunate that that’s how they’re choosing to characterize me as a physician and someone passionate about healing and the well-being of people,” said Webb, an internal medicine doctor and director of health policy and equity at the University of Virginia. “It’s typical Washington politics. It’s a wedge issue for political gain.”
When Good first started making an issue of Webb and law enforcement on the campaign trail, Webb launched a TV ad featuring several former rural sheriffs endorsing Webb. One of them served as sheriff in Campbell County while Good was supervisor.
“These attacks against Dr. Webb are just lies,” says former Campbell Sheriff Steve Hutcherson.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, the House Republicans’ chief super PAC, rolled out an ad recently that draws on a response Webb gave to a Charlottesville TV station about calls to defund the police. In the interview, Webb talks about the role of federal funds for law enforcement and a need to fund areas such as mental health to improve the well-being of a community.
“So those calls to defund the police, again, we need to use that language and we need to use it appropriately because those calls to defund the police, that’s not coming from nowhere,” Webb says in the ad. “That’s coming from a deeply rooted sense that hey, all of this extra spending on police is actually part of the problem of policing and over-policing.”
Webb said the ad misrepresents the intent of his words. He said he wants to listen to all views on an issue, including those saying “defund the police,” and understand why people are coming at it from a certain perspective in order to come up with solutions.
Webb has said he does not support defunding the police but rather funding them in an appropriate way to effectively do their jobs. His father worked for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Webb’s campaign fired back with an ad citing news articles and government meeting minutes to say Good voted for a budget that included a decrease in sheriff’s office funding and against another budget that included an increase in sheriff’s office funding while he was a supervisor. It also highlights the struggles of the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office to retain deputies because of the low pay.
Good said he voted against the budget with the funding increase because it came with a tax increase he opposed. He said sheriff’s office funding increased overall during his time as supervisor.
Good has said he supports providing more federal funding to law enforcement and would oppose efforts to peel back qualified immunity, the legal doctrine often used to shield officers from lawsuits. He’s said he will advocate for a law enforcement bill of rights, which are statutes that exist in various states and are coming under scrutiny recently for how they offer broad protections to police accused of wrongdoing.
Webb has been campaigning on a platform of criminal justice reform, which extends from policing to courts to the incarceration system.
He said that while he was a White House fellow — which extended from the Obama administration into the Trump administration — he had the opportunity to work on the First Step Act, which did things such as curb mandatory minimums and reduce harsh crack cocaine sentences. Webb said he’d like to build on that work. As for policing, he wants to find ways to minimize law enforcement involvement with people with mental illnesses and get them the appropriate care they need.
“The goal is the same across our communities — and that is for everyone to be safe and for everyone to have justice,” Webb said.
Good has been urging voters to not view Webb as a moderate. At speeches, he tells people Webb is endorsed by people like U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., supports abortion rights and gun control and would impose government-run health care. Webb is running on supporting a public health insurance option.
“He doesn’t talk about his positions because they’re wrong for the 5th District,” Good said. “He can’t win. Instead, he resorts to baseless, dishonest smear attacks, character assassinations. I’m an open conservative who will stand strong with the president.”
Webb hasn’t focused much of his talking points on Good. His main message is he is a “consensus-builder.” He’s raised far more money than Good. By the end of June, Webb had raised $1.3 million, whereas Good had raised $259,000, according to financial filings.
On Thursday, Sabato’s Crystal Ball at UVa, a politics newsletter and website, changed its ranking of the race from “leans Republican” to “toss-up.” Last month, Cook Political Report made a similar change.
The 5th District — the largest geographically in the state — spans from Southside up to the edge of the Northern Virginia suburbs and includes most of the Charlottesville area.
It’s an open seat after Good defeated first-term Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Nelson, in a bitter drive-thru convention with the support of social conservatives who were upset that Riggleman had officiated a same-sex wedding.
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.