Incumbent Tom Garrett drops reelection bid for 5th District seat

Rep. Tom Garrett (blue shirt), Virginia Republican representing Rappahannock County, meets with Sperryville business owner Rick Wasmund (second from left) and others at Copper Fox Distillery last year. Photo by John McCaslin

What has been a bizarre several days for Republican Rep. Tom Garrett ended with a stunning announcement Sunday afternoon, when Rappahannock County’s representative in the U.S. Congress declared that he was an alcoholic and would not seek re-election in November.

In a video statement, the freshman congressman, who faced a strong challenger in Rappahannock County Democrat Leslie Cockburn, said instead of campaigning for a second term he needed to concentrate on his personal health and his family.

“This is because life is about priorities and values, and for the most part, I am proud of mine,” Garrett said. “But there is one area where I haven’t been honest. The tragedy is any person, Republican, Democrat or Independent, who has known me for any period of times, knows two things: I am a good man and I am an alcoholic.

“This is the hardest statement I have ever made publicly, by far. It is also the truth.”

The lawmaker’s announcement follows the abrupt resignation this week of his chief of staff, leading to speculation that his office and campaign were in turmoil.

Politico reported that Garrett even threatened to drop out of the 2018 race. The congressman, however, quickly called a Capitol Hill news conference to insist his hat was still in the ring.

Several anonymous former staffers of Garrett later alleged that the congressman and his wife had forced them to undertake personal errands for the couple, from chauffeuring their children to caring for their dog.

Garrett called the latest accusations “half-truths and whole lies, driven more by Republicans than Democrats.”

By dropping out of the race, the 46-year-old Garrett becomes the 48th Republican to either retire in 2018 or not seek reelection. Cockburn, a former journalist who only recently won the nomination to face the Republican, has raised more campaign money than her former opponent, even though the 5th congressional district historically favors Republicans.

The 5th Congressional District Republican Committee will now have to choose a new candidate to face Cockburn, selecting from a potential pool of state senators, delegates and businessmen, as well as town of Washington resident Joe Whited, a U.S. military intelligence veteran and analyst who works closely with Congress.

Whited ran unsuccessfully for the same 5th district seat in the 2016 Republican primary campaign.

A supporter of Cockburn told the Rappahannock News on Saturday evening that some in her campaign actually preferred that Garrett remain in the race, as he was seen as a weaker candidate compared to other potential Republican office seekers.

Garrett, even in the end, did not consider himself weak.

“Not for fear of losing,” he said into the camera, “today I am announcing that I will not seek reelection. Sometimes winning means knowing where your priorities should be.”

Cockburn, who resides in Rappahannock County, told this newspaper Monday night: “This has clearly been a difficult week for Tom Garrett, his family and his staff. It is important that he has recognized his alcohol addiction and I wish him well.

“Our campaign will move forward as before, continuing to build a strong organization in the 5th district to address the critical issues we face and bring people the representation in Washington they deserve.”

She added: “We won’t know for days or weeks what the Republicans will throw at us next, as they choose a candidate behind closed doors.”

About John McCaslin 469 Articles
John McCaslin is the editor of the Rappahannock News. Email him at