Politics

Are Republicans Worried About Holding Virginia’s 5th District?

Scalise campaigns for Republican Denver Riggleman in home stretch but says they’re not concerned

Republican candidate for Virginia’s 5th District, Denver Riggleman, right, introduces House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, left, at a Thursday campaign event for him and Ben Cline, Republican candidate for the 6th District, in Lynchburg, Virginia. (Photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

LYNCHBURG, Va. — Five days before Election Day, a campaign visit from the House’s No. 3 Republican and rising star Steve Scalise might suggest a candidate’s in trouble.

But Scalise and others said that’s not the reason he decided to stump here for Republican Denver Riggleman, who’s running for the open seat in Virginia’s 5th District.

“I’m getting around to as many districts as I can where they’re spending a lot of money to try to elect Nancy Pelosi as speaker,” Scalise said. “And there’s big money out there. And so even if it looks like a safe district and Pelosi is spending a lot of money — millions of dollars in a lot of these cases — you don’t take any race lightly.”

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates Riggleman’s race against Democrat Leslie Cockburn Likely Republican.

Cockburn has led Riggleman in the money race. She raised $2.8 million this cycle through pre-general filing period that closed Oct. 17. In that time she spent $2.1 million and ended the reporting period with $700,000

Riggleman, meanwhile, has raised $1.4 million and spent just under $1 million in the same time period. He had $430,000 cash on hand as of Oct. 17.

The 5th District, Virginia’s largest in terms of size, would likely not be on anyone’s radar if it weren’t for the financial discrepancy.

The last Democrat to represent the district was Rep. Tom Perriello, who was elected in 2008 as Democrats experienced a mini congressional wave that cycle riding the coattails of President Barack Obama’s first election. Perriello lost his re-election bid in 2010 in the massive Tea Party wave that was largely a referendum on Obama’s first two years. 

But Democrats say they’re impressed with Cockburn’s ground game as she’s traversed the district’s 21 counties and think she could emerge victorious if there’s a large Democratic wave this cycle.

Both candidates have been complimented for how quickly they’ve been able to organize their campaigns since the seat became open after Republican Rep. Tom Garrettannounced in late May that he would not seek re-election to focus on his recovery from an alcohol addiction. 

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Riggleman and Cockburn were nominated by their respective local party officials to run for the seat.

Dean Cumbo, who participated in that process as Campbell County Republican Committee chairman, said it was intense and emotional. After Riggleman came out on top, he decided he wanted to learn more about him so he decided to visit the distillery he owns in Afton, Virginia.

“When I walked in, I didn’t go in and try to find him,” he said. “I was like, ‘I want to see what this guy’s about. I really want to know his true thing.’ And I saw him running around wiping tables, greeting people. ... He wasn’t politicking. He was being a business owner.”

It’s that “customer is always right” approach that Cumbo expects Riggleman will bring to Congress. 

“He’s very down to Earth,” he said. “I listen to him and he talks with you, he doesn’t talk to you.”

Cumbo thinks Riggleman will win the election on Tuesday, as does Melvin Adams, who is the Republican chairman for the entire 5th District. 

“We can’t take anything for granted — and we’re not,” he said. “But I do think we’re going to win because I do know the district pretty well. We’re a conservative district. And unfortunately our opponent is so far left. There are small pockets where she has huge fan clubs but you get out of that area, she is just completely out of sync with the 5th District.”

The Riggleman event with Scalise, who was also traveling with Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, was held at R.A. Bistro. The restaurant is in the 6th District but Lynchburg also includes part of the 5th District.

Ben Cline, the Republican candidate for the open 6th District, and the seat’s current occupant, retiring Rep. Bob Goodlatte, were also on hand for the event. 

The conservative House Freedom Caucus has been eying Riggleman and Cline as potential recruits and spending money to help them get elected. Both candidates said they plan to join the caucus if elected and invited.

Inside Elections rates Cline’s race against Democrat Jennifer Lewis Solid Republican.

“Some races might look easier than others, but look we’ve got to hold this House majority, and I’m confident we will,” Scalise said. “Denver is going to be a great addition to our team and so is Ben. And we want to let them know that this is a team sport, and we’re standing with them.”

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