Republicans in Central Virginia will decide whether to keep Rep. Denver Riggleman or go with his more conventionally conservative challenger during an unusual convention Saturday.
Riggleman, of Nelson County, and Bob Good, a former Liberty University athletics official, have waged contentious campaigns to secure the nomination.
First elected in 2018, Riggleman has touted his Libertarian streak and support of individual liberties. Those beliefs have, in some cases, rubbed some conservatives, including Good, the wrong way.
In 2019, Riggleman officiated a same-sex wedding, which led to efforts from Republican committees within the 5th District to censure the congressman. Though the wedding gained him some negative attention from certain conservative voters, Riggleman said he does not regret it.
“Voters know where I stand on these things; I think this comes down to individual values and keeping the government out of our individual liberties,” Riggleman said. “I’m sensitive to the values of my constituents, but I’m also conscious of my own values.”
Good, who is also a former member of the Campbell County Board of Supervisors, views himself as a “true conservative,” whose Christian values influence his policy stances.
Though Good said the wedding did not spur his campaign, he does believe Riggleman has strayed from the path conservative voters elected him to follow.
Riggleman and Good have touted their endorsements as evidence of their values. Riggleman is one of the few Republican House members to receive an endorsement from President Donald Trump, who tweeted out his support of the incumbent in December, just prior to a House impeachment vote.
Among Good’s endorsements is former 5th District Reps. Virgil Goode and Tom Garrett, Riggleman’s predecessor, who, amid an ethics investigation, declined to run for re-election in 2018 and instead sought treatment for alcoholism.
One of the issues candidates’ views vary on is abortion, which Good believes should not be allowed in any circumstance.
“I don’t believe in exceptions on abortion — I don’t think that there’s any circumstance that justifies the killing of the child,” Good said. “So I’m pro-life in a very different way than my opponent in that respect.”
Riggleman has previously stated that though he is generally against abortion, he supports exceptions in cases of incest and rape, as well as when the mother’s life is medically endangered by the pregnancy.
Another area of contention for the two is on immigration. Riggleman, who has a background in military contracting, said he believes in safely securing the border but is in favor of expanding work visas and paths to immigration for those who can provide skills the United States needs.
Riggleman is among a bipartisan group of 311 House members who supported HR 1044, which passed last year and doubled the per-country cap on family-based immigration visas to 15% and eliminated the 7% cap for employment-based immigrant visas.
“This is a country of immigrants and it’s important that we don’t lose sight of that,” Riggleman said. “I don’t believe we should be discouraging immigration, but we need to find better ways to do it safely and to make sure it’s benefiting the U.S.”
Good has proposed ending birthright citizenship and for the U.S. to stop prioritizing the admittance of family members of immigrants already living here.
Good also believes English should be the national language and that immigrants should be required to learn it.
“We are a nation of immigrants, but our unity is our strength and our immigration system is one that requires assimilation,” he said. “I believe we’re unique among the nations of the world, and I want to preserve that.”
Riggleman and Good also view bipartisanship in a different light.
During his first term in the House of Representatives, Riggleman has been in the minority party and, as such, said working on bipartisan legislation to combat the opioid epidemic and expand access to high-quality broadband in rural communities has been important.
“A lot of the issues we’re facing in this country are bipartisan issues and so it makes sense to seek bipartisan solutions that benefit all 700,000 residents of the 5th District,” Riggleman said. “It’s very personal to me to fight drugs and to protect health care coverage of pre-existing conditions.”
Good said that bipartisanship “usually means doing what the Democrats want,” and likened the House’s current situation to Virginia’s General Assembly, which saw widespread legislative overhaul after Democrats won the majority in both the Senate and House of Delegates during the 2019 election.
“Democratic donors like the George Soroses and the Michael Bloombergs of the world expect to get paid on that investment, and the Democrats are delivering,” Good said of the state legislature. “I’m not going to Washington to compromise for the Democrats; I disagree with the Democratic Party on everything.”
Perhaps the biggest contention between the candidates has come during the last several months as district Republicans ramped up for their nominating contest.
The choice to nominate via a convention has led to much drama and disagreement between the candidates and within the 5th District GOP committee.
A convention allows the committee to have more influence over who is nominated and can level the playing field, allowing for lesser-known and further-right candidates to be chosen.
Saturday’s convention has been modified in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Delegates will travel from across the massive district to cast votes at an all-day drive-thru convention being held at Tree of Life Ministries in Campbell County.
Riggleman has accused the committee of using “pay-to-play” politics to select a nominee and accused three voting members of the committee of being members of Good’s campaign after they voted to not add a convention site in Nelson County.
“I don’t do ‘pay-to-play’ politics, that’s the kind of corruption I’m fighting against,” Riggleman said. “This kind of corruption is why people don’t get involved in politics.”
Despite living less than a half-hour from the convention site, Good claims the location will not benefit him more because the convention uses a weighted vote determined by the localities’ populations.
“If more people show up from Campbell County, where I live, or Fauquier County, it doesn’t matter; they can only get so many votes,” Good said. “Think of it like [Electoral College] votes, which are assigned proportionally but it’s not winner takes all like in a presidential election.”
This past Saturday, the State Central Committee of the Republican Party of Virginia denied an appeal from Riggleman to add sites for the convention, seemingly ending the months-long debate.
Whichever candidate receives the nomination will face one of four Democratic hopefuls: R.D. Huffstetler, John Lesinski, Claire Russo or Dr. Cameron Webb. The Democratic nominee is set to be chosen via a primary June 23.