Businessman Denver Riggleman, a distillery owner with no political experience, will be the Republican nominee for Virginia’s 5th Congressional District, replacing outgoing Rep. Tom Garrett on the ballot.
Garrett announced plans to not seek re-election after he reportedly asked his staff to perform tasks outside of the duties of his office, and he cited his desire to seek treatment for alcoholism as reason for stepping aside.
The tumultuous and unexpected exit for the freshman member of Congress forced the Republican Party of Virginia to quickly pick his replacement, as Garrett had already been formally nominated. State and party rules give the state’s Congressional District Committee the sole authority to replace him on the ballot. A flurry of candidates announced plans to stand before the committee to be considered for the nomination. It took four rounds of secret balloting before Riggleman was nominated.
The door opened to Riggleman’s nomination after the frontrunner, state Sen. Bill Stanley, announced he was not going to seek the nomination, telling radio talk show host John Fredericks that he wasn’t “built for Congress” and that he is seriously considering a run for statewide office in 2021. Stanley’s exit set off a scramble for the other candidates to coalesce support.
Riggleman, a libertarian-leaning conservative who supports same-sex marriage, beat out arch-conservative Cynthia Dunbar. Dunbar, a recent Texas transplant and vehement supporter of President Donald Trump, narrowly lost a similar nominating contest in the neighboring 6th Congressional District. She played coy about her intentions in the 5th district and was not officially a candidate until she appeared at the forum Saturday morning.
Martha Boneta, Del. Michael Webert, Joseph Whited and Mike del Rosso also stood for the nomination.
Riggleman ran a short-lived campaign for governor of Virginia but dropped out before the primary vote.
Republicans are still the favorite in the red 5th district, which Trump carried by 15 points in 2016. Democrats have fielded a strong candidate in former journalist Leslie Cockburn. She has raised more than $700,000 in support of her campaign. Garrett, by contrast, had only raised a little more than $400,000 before deciding to abandon his campaign.