Rig­gle­man learns it’s hard to run as a rebel

GOP out­sider’s bid for gov­er­nor wins sup­port but lags on fundrais­ing

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY LAURA VOZZELLA

rich­mond — Den­ver Rig­gle­man has done hard stuff be­fore.

As an Air Force in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer after 9/11, he planned bomb­ing raids over Afghanistan. As a small-busi­ness man, he over­came mad­den­ing bu­reau­cracy to build a distillery out­side Char­lottesville. As a land owner in the path of a pro­posed nat­u­ral gas pipe­line, he went toe-to-toe with an en­ergy gi­ant.

But run­ning for gov­er­nor of Vir­ginia as a gen­uine out­sider? Now that’s tough, as the Repub­li­can is find­ing out nine weeks into a pop­ulist bid that has gen­er­ated en­thu­si­as­tic sup­port from some vot­ers but not much cash.

“What I’ve learned, sadly, is money seems to be the most im­por­tant part of a cam­paign,” he said in an in­ter­view Fri­day. “You can read about it, but un­til you ex­pe­ri­ence it, you don’t un­der­stand the mas­sive fi­nan­cial out­lay that you’re re­spon­si­ble for per­son­ally. Now I see why it’s so dif­fi­cult for peo­ple that aren’t en­trenched in the po­lit­i­cal game to run for of­fice.”

Rig­gle­man is one of four can­di­dates com­pet­ing in the GOP’s June 13 gu­ber­na­to­rial pri­mary. The oth­ers — for­mer Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee Chair­man Ed Gille­spie, state Sen. Frank Wag­ner (Vir­ginia Beach) and

Corey Ste­wart, chair­man of the Prince Wil­liam Board of County Su­per­vi­sors — have had long ca­reers in or around gov­ern­ment. And they have the war chests to show for it. Each raised be­tween $450,000 and $2 mil­lion by the end of De­cem­ber, the most re­cent cam­paign fi­nance re­port­ing dead­line.

Rig­gle­man pulled in just $40,000 by then. He said he has since raised an­other $60,000. But with eight staffers and a pay­roll ap­proach­ing $40,000 a month, plus the cost of gas, print­ing and other ex­penses, he is feel­ing the strain.

“I thought rais­ing $100,000 would be awe­some in the first 21/2 months,” Rig­gle­man said in an in­ter­view Fri­day. “But my gosh, it’s a pim­ple on a hog’s [back­side]” … You fig­ure out why peo­ple would rather play the game than come from the out­side.”

With Don­ald Trump in the White House and pop­ulists ag­i­tat­ing in both par­ties, Rig­gle­man fig­ured the time was right for an up­start bid. He has won fans with a hum­ble-ori­gins bi­og­ra­phy, a tale of reg­u­la­tory woe re­lated to the distillery and his David-andGo­liath ac­count of fight­ing off Do­min­ion Vir­ginia Power’s pro­posed pipe­line.

Trina Phillips of York­town, chair­woman of the 2,500-mem­ber Mil­i­tary Spouses for Trump Coali­tion, with­drew her en­dorse­ment of Gille­spie last week and backed Rig­gle­man after meet­ing the distillery owner.

“Den­ver, he’s more of a peo­ple per­son,” she said. “He’s more like us. He’s not a politi­cian. He un­der­stands the needs of the mil­i­tary … I like that he wants to get in there to change the laws for the Vir­ginia peo­ple. He’s not be­ing paid by any­body … Ed and Frank and Corey, they’re all ac­cept­ing all kinds of money.”

Rig­gle­man has found a fol­low­ing among other Trump vot­ers. Ste­wart, who drew na­tional at­ten­tion a decade ago for a crack­down on il­le­gal im­mi­grants in Prince Wil­liam, was chair­man of the pres­i­dent’s Vir­ginia cam­paign for most of last year. He likes to say, “I was Trump be­fore Trump was Trump.” But at times Ste­wart was too out­spo­ken even for the Trump cam­paign, and he was even­tu­ally fired for protest­ing out­side of RNC head­quar­ters in Wash­ing­ton.

Among the Trump fans who have turned to Rig­gle­man is Mark Lloyd, a Vir­ginia tea party leader who was Trump’s Vir­ginia cam­paign di­rec­tor. And Jim McKelvey, a Moneta de­vel­oper who shrink-wrapped his own recre­ational ve­hi­cle for Trump last year and spent four months driv­ing it across Vir­ginia and North Carolina on his own dime to pro­mote the Repub­li­can’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

McKelvey said he was pre­pared to sit out the gov­er­nor’s race.

“There was no one there who re­ally ex­cited me,” he said. “I lis­ten to th­ese peo­ple. It’s just the typ­i­cal po­lit­i­cal spew.”

Then McKelvey heard Rig­gle­man’s stump speech. Now he has of­fered to wrap his RV for Rig­gle­man and lend it to his cam­paign.

Pol­icy-wise, the can­di­date has much in com­mon with the rest of the Repub­li­can field. He sup­ports char­ter schools and vouch­ers. He op­poses abor­tion in most cases. He’s big on gun rights, propos­ing that Vir­gini­ans be al­lowed to carry hand­guns with­out a per­mit. He talks a lot about lib­erty.

Rig­gle­man takes some hardright stances, such as call­ing for the state to pull fund­ing from “sanc­tu­ary schools,” mean­ing those that pro­tect il­le­gal im­mi­grants. But he also sup­ports the de­crim­i­nal­iza­tion of mar­i­juana, a po­si­tion only Ste­wart shares on the GOP side. He also calls for end­ing manda­tory min­i­mum sen­tences for non­vi­o­lent crim­i­nals.

But the heart of Rig­gle­man’s pitch is per­sonal: the ob­sta­cles he and his wife en­coun­tered as they launched Sil­ver­back Distillery in The en­trenched liquor in­ter­ests that en­sure dis­tillers pay higher taxes on ev­ery bot­tle than beer and wine sell­ers do. Con­flict­ing fed­eral and county rules for out­door light­ing. Reg­u­la­tions that, to this day, al­low them to serve food on the premises only if they give it away.

He also de­scribes his bat­tle with Do­min­ion, the state’s big­gest po­lit­i­cal donor, over the pro­posed At­lantic Coast Pipe­line. At one point, it was slated to cross his 50-acre distillery prop­erty in Nel­son County. He says the com­pany is try­ing to use em­i­nent do­main to claim land for a project that is not for the pub­lic good, but pri­vate gain — a char­ac­ter­i­za­tion that Do­min­ion has dis­puted.

What sells Rig­gle­man’s speech is his de­liv­ery. He could sim­ply rant that elected of­fi­cials, lob­by­ists and cor­po­rate big­wigs are in ca­hoots. In­stead, he says they’ve cre­ated “a self-lick­ing ice cream cone.” In­spired by his distillery headaches, he’s dubbed his can­di­dacy “the Whiskey Re­bel­lion.”

Rig­gle­man’s per­son­al­ity — blunt but up­beat, never neg­a­tive to­ward his ri­vals — sets him apart from Ste­wart, who is known for bom­bas­tic rhetoric. The stylis­tic dif­fer­ence sealed the deal for Cindy Kin­ney, a con­tract man­ager for Vir­ginia Com­mon­wealth Univer­sity. She said Ste­wart turned her off with his vow to “hunt … down” il­le­gal im­mi­grants.

“There’s a way to de­fend your prin­ci­ples with­out alien­at­ing ev2014. ery­body,” she said. “Den­ver doesn’t do that.”

Kin­ney has been col­lect­ing pe­ti­tion sig­na­tures to help Rig­gle­man get the 10,000 he needs to get on the bal­lot. The pe­ti­tions were on her mind a few weeks ago, after a se­ri­ous car ac­ci­dent sent her to the emer­gency room. As soon as she got out of the hos­pi­tal, she went to the lot where her Subaru had been towed to re­trieve them.

“I’m happy to be alive,” she told Rig­gle­man last week­end at an O’Charley’s res­tau­rant, where he was about to speak to a break­fast meet­ing of the Hen­rico County GOP. “Your pe­ti­tions were in the car with me, and I saved them.”

Rig­gle­man seemed over­whelmed by the ges­ture.

“I don’t know what to say to that,” he said.

But that sup­port has not yet trans­lated into the $150,000 a month he needs to keep go­ing.

Rig­gle­man faced some skep­tics dur­ing the rest of his day, which in­cluded a “greet and shoot” at a Rich­mond gun range and a meet­ing of the GOP’s State Cen­tral Com­mit­tee in the gleam­ing new of­fice tower built by McGuireWoods, the lob­by­ing and le­gal pow­er­house that is the seat of Rich­mond’s es­tab­lish­ment power.

A Do­min­ion en­gi­neer at the break­fast, Rick McDon­ald, stood after the can­di­date’s speech to say the pipe­line would be “a win­ner for the state.” And in brief re­marks to the crowd, Del. Ri­ley In­gram (R-Hopewell) vol­un­teered: “I think the only one that can be elected is Ed Gille­spie.”

Rig­gle­man — eat­ing his break­fast in the back of the room with Lloyd, Trump’s Vir­ginia di­rec­tor — shook it off.

“That’s all right,” he told Lloyd, chuck­ling. “I’ve heard that be­fore.”


TOP: Den­ver Rig­gle­man, right, a Repub­li­can can­di­date for Vir­ginia gov­er­nor, talks with Do­min­ion Vir­ginia Power en­gi­neer Rick McDon­ald after a GOP break­fast March 4 near Rich­mond. ABOVE: Rig­gle­man re­cites the Pledge of Al­le­giance at a state GOP com­mit­tee meet­ing March 4 in Rich­mond.

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