Riggleman dashes Cockburn bid to turn red 5th a shade of purple
➤ ‘It was a good race… I wish Leslie all the best’ ➤ Rapp voters back Republican over local candidate
Republican Denver Riggleman, a central Virginia distillery owner and latecomer to the 5th district congressional race, defeated Democrat Leslie Cockburn, a resident of Rappahannock County, in Tuesday’s midterm election.
With all 330 district precincts reporting, Riggleman secured 165,107 votes (53.24 percent) to Cockburn’s 144,493 (46.59 percent). There were 540 write-ins.
“It was a good race,” an elated Riggleman told the Rappahannock News by telephone late Tuesday night.
Praising his Democratic opponent, he said it’s time to “move on, and work at what’s best for Virginia. One gets pretty emotional right now after such a long and hardfought race. I wish Leslie all the best.”
On Wednesday morning, Cockburn wrote to this newspaper: “We ran a great campaign in an extremely difficult district. It will have the lasting effect of giving people hope from Danville to Fauquier and inspiring others to take up the fight.”
It was beyond a satisfying victory for Riggleman, a U.S. military veteran who up until Election Day was seen as running neck and neck with Cockburn, a former investigative journalist. Just recently the 5th district was labeled a “toss up” by the University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato, although internal GOP polling had given Riggleman a 10 percentage point lead.
After voting early Tuesday in Afton, Riggleman and his wife Christine hit the road for a full day of last-minute campaigning. He visited Bedford, Franklin, Pittsylvania, Appomattox, Fluvanna, and Albemarle counties, as well as the city of Danville on the North Carolina border. He then headed back north to await election returns at a restaurant brewery near his home.
Even in her home base of Rappahannock County, Cockburn didn’t fare as well as some might have expected. Riggleman captured 2,040 of Rappahannock’s votes (52.56 percent) to Cockburn’s 1,835 (47.28 percent). There were six write-ins.
Voters surrounding Chester Gap went overwhelmingly for Riggleman, giving the Republican more than 71 percent of the tally (233 votes to Cockburn’s 93). In Amissville, it was a similar outcome — 65 percent of the ballots went to Riggleman (460 votes to 251).
In Castleton, 53 percent of voters preferred Riggleman (324 votes) compared to Cockburn’s 47 percent (290 votes). It was closer in the precinct surrounding Washington, where Riggleman garnered 370 votes (51 percent) to Cockburn’s 357.
The only two Rappahannock precincts that went for the Democrat surrounded the villages of Sperryville and Flint Hill. Poll goers in the former awarded Cockburn 355 votes (54 percent) to Riggleman’s 305, although in Flint Hill she barely edged her opponent, 202 votes to 197.
The progressive platform of Cockburn, embraced certainly by Democrats but not nearly the number of Republican crossovers she banked on to put her over the top, followed more than a year of grassroots organizing by the candidate in 21 counties stretching from Northern Virginia to North Carolina — a district larger than New Jersey.
Cockburn, who sought to become the first woman elected to James Madison’s former seat, logged some 85,000 miles on her car during the campaign, using her home in Rappahannock County as her pit stop.
Driven to run for Congress by the election of Donald Trump, she immediately pledged to protect the Affordable Care Act, advocate for Medicare for all, fight opioid addiction, protect the environment and immigrant families, work to restore racial harmony, and fight for women’s equal rights, work and pay — a platform contrary to the president’s White House agenda.
Once the race was declared for Riggleman, National Republican Congressional Com-
mittee spokeswoman Maddie Anderson stated of Cockburn: “The Democrats put forth one of the most radical candidates in the country, and it massively backfired. Denver Riggleman fits the district and will represent Virginians well. The NRCC is proud to congratulate Congressman-elect Denver Riggleman.”
A prominent journalist, filmmaker and author, Cockburn said it was mainly Trump’s “attacks” on the Fourth Estate that sealed her bid for Capitol Hill, “because he was pointing at reporters and saying you are the enemy of the people, and that is something that is very un American and shocking. And to do that to the FBI? It’s kind of beyond belief. But it means we all better stand up and do something about it.”
And nobody, Riggleman included, can’t say she didn’t try. On Tuesday morning, with heavy rainfall streaming off her “Town of Farmville” umbrella, Cockburn arrived at her Rappahannock County campaign office in Huntly, where she reminded her volunteers and supporters that “rain never stopped a tsunami.” But there would be no tsunami, and the Democratic blue wave that lifted several other Virginia candidates never reached the 5th district.
The candidate and her Irish-born husband, journalist Andrew Cockburn, cast their ballots — he for the very first-time as an American — at their home precinct in Castleton. From there, like her opponent, Cockburn headed south into the sprawling district for what would be her final day of campaigning.
In an interview with the Rappahannock News in Sperryville last December, five months after she announced
her candidacy, Cockburn expressed confidence that 2018 would be the year for women — across the country, on Capitol Hill, and into the 5th district of Virginia, where her ultimate aim was to unseat Republican Rep. Tom Garrett.
But unbeknownst to everybody, Garrett in a few months’ time would announce that he was fighting alcoholism and would not seek a second term. And it wouldn’t be until June that Riggleman was chosen by district GOP leaders to face Cockburn. It wasn’t too many days later that the new Republican candidate arrived in Rappahannock County to march in Amissville’s 4th of July parade.
“That was right at the beginning of my campaign, I’d just gotten in, and I was pretty confident then,” Riggleman acknowledged to this newspaper Tuesday night. “But not too much later . . . I wasn’t as confident. It was a lot harder, a lot more difficult than I thought it would be.”
And while Rappahannock is home to Cockburn, Riggleman assured his supporters here that they will be seeing plenty of him as their representative in the U.S. Congress.
“I believe I connected with Rappahannock,” he said. “Rappahannock, you know, is close to my hometown [of Manassas]. I think I’m one of the last [elected congressmen] born or raised in Virginia on either side [of the political aisle].
“So you’ll be seeing a lot of me in the district. I think some will be happy to see me and others will be tired of seeing me. It’s the biggest district in the state, 21 counties, and I’m going to spend time in every one of them. I’m going to be active.”
As a candidate Republican Denver Riggleman of Nelson County marched in Amissville’s annual parade last summer.