It’s a hell of a thing when a Republican congressman endorsed by Donald Trump and Jerry Falwell Jr. loses renomination — not far from Falwell’s Liberty University stomping grounds — to a challenger alleging he’s a RINO, gay-loving, abortion-coddling wimp. That’s what happened to freshman Virginia representative Denver Riggelman this weekend, unless he succeeds in having the result overturned by the courts, which seems unlikely.
Riggelman did not lose a primary, however. Virginia’s the rare state where parties can choose to hold nomination contests by convention rather than by primary, and that’s what the GOP in Riggelman’s Fifth Congressional District (a polyglot district that runs from the D.C. exurbs through central and south-side Virginia all the way to the North Carolina border). Indeed, a convention nominated Riggelman in 2018 after the prior incumbent, Thomas Garrett, abruptly retired following an admission of an alcohol problem. Riggelman then defeated well-regarded Democrat Leslie Cockburn, but on the road to reelection, he offended his district’s hard-core cultural conservatives by agreeing to officiate the wedding of two former campaign volunteers who were both men. That drew Bob Good, a former county supervisor — who had also been an associate athletic director at Liberty University — to challenge him. And even though Good’s former boss Falwell endorsed Riggelman, he had a bull’s-eye on his back (Falwell’s brother Jonathan, the pastor of the family church in Lynchburg, endorsed Good).
The bull’s-eye got larger when district Republicans chose to conduct their convention in the parking lot of a Lynchburg church much closer to Good’s base than to Riggelman’s. At the event, 2,537 elected delegates gave 58 percent of their votes to the challenger during drive-through balloting. Riggelman has yet to concede and contends there were irregularities (other than the obvious ones) in the balloting. But it’s unclear he can or will be able to do anything about it.
Good’s nomination, in turn, significantly enhances Democratic hopes of poaching this district, which was briefly in the hands of Democrat Tom Perriello after an upset win in 2008. Three Democrats with decent fundraising assets are competing in a June 23 primary for their party’s Fifth District nomination. Whoever wins can credibly call Good an extremist; in addition to his championship of the homophobes most motivated to purge Riggelman, Good favors a total ban on abortions from the moment of conception, not even acknowledging a threat to the life of the mother as valid (Riggelman would only go so far as supporting a ban on abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, typically six or seven weeks into pregnancy).
Assuming Riggelman can be talked out of a lawsuit, it’s an excellent bet that all the Falwells and Donald Trump can be reunited in backing Good. But all may come to dread the fact that the general election will not be held in a church parking lot.