By Peter Galuszka
The Virginia Republican Party had a big shock Saturday.
Far-right candidate Bob Good snatched the party’s nomination in the fifth congressional district from incumbent Denver Riggleman, who was backed by President Donald Trump and Jerry Falwell Jr., the head of Liberty University.
The remarkable twist could presage an arch-conservative backlash against Trump’s populism in the run up to elections this November.
University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato tweeted early Sunday morning that “the Virginia GOP has gone so far to the right that a congressman backed by (Trump and Falwell) isn’t conservative enough to renominate.”
The 5th District includes the cities of Lynchburg and Charlottesville and covers broad swaths of highly socially conservative rural areas. Riggleman’s problem was that he had Libertarian tendencies and had officiated at a gay wedding.
Good hit Riggleman hard on the wedding and pushed a platform that included considerable xenophobia. For example, in his campaign, he stated that he wants to make English the official national language and “stop accommodating immigrants and their native tongues, because it’s our unity that’s our strength,” according to the Roanoke Times.
The Times came back with an editorial that “he’s not calling for historic American values to be upheld, he’s calling for them to be replaced.”
The drive-in convention that decided the candidate also is extremely odd. Riggleman wanted a primary but the local GOP opted for a convention instead.
Because of the COVID 19 pandemic, the GOP decided that the Tree of Life Ministries Church would be a polling place for the convention in which people would drive by in their cars. It just happens that the church is where Good worships.
“This is the most perverse way to choose a candidate,” Riggleman said Saturday before the results came in. Good claimed he got 58 percent of the vote.
Good is a former Lynchburg city council member and an employee at right-leaving Liberty University. His anti-foreign language and immigrant stances fly in the face of his district’s and Virginia’s need to become more sophisticated so it can deal with an increasingly global economy.
Lynchburg, for example, is the center for two major nuclear companies. One is Babcock & Wilcox that makes nuclear fuel gear and Framatome, a major French-owned nuclear service firm. The latter is so influential locally that Lynchburg has its own chapter of the Alliance Francaise, an international organization that promotes French language and culture.
The Virginia GOP has been in disarray for years. Republicans haven’t won statewide races in a decade. The three top state posts are held by Democrats which made big inroads in the 2018 congressional elections and the 2019 General Assembly races.
Good will face the winner of the June 23 Democratic primary. The candidates are Roger Dean Huffstetler, a Charlottesville entrepreneur who lost the Democratic nomination for the same seat two years ago; John Lesinski, a former Rappahannock County supervisor; Claire Russo, a Marine veteran; and Cameron Webb, director of health policy and equity at the University of Virginia, the Times reports.
Meanwhile, there’s a good chance that Riggleman while come forward with legal challenges to the convention.