GOP chooses Virginia distiller to battle Rappahannock’s Cockburn

Libertarian-minded Denver Riggleman touts independence

Insisting it’s status quo for her campaign and platform, Rappahannock County resident and Democratic congressional hopeful Leslie Cockburn suddenly has a new opponent standing between her and Capitol Hill.

“This doesn’t change anything,” Cockburn assured her supporters Saturday afternoon, moments after it was revealed that Charlottesville area distillery owner Denver Riggleman, a self-described conservative, was chosen by 37 Republican activists to replace embattled Rep. Tom Garrett on Virginia’s 5th district general election ballot in November.

Newly chosen Republican congressional candidate Denver Riggleman at his Nelson County spirits distillery. Courtesy photo

Seven months shy of finishing his first term in office, Garrett announced late last month that he is an alcoholic and therefore will not seek reelection.

An Air Force veteran and defense contractor before going into the distilling business, the Libertarian-minded Riggleman was a short-lived gubernatorial candidate last year before dropping out prior to the GOP primary.

His plans, if elected to Congress, are to follow Garrett’s footsteps and join the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

“There’s three things I believe in,” Riggleman told a gaggle of reporters following several rounds of secret balloting on Saturday. “It’s free markets, it’s free agency, and it’s the freedom to keep your money.”

A former longtime journalist, Cockburn didn’t waste time going on the offensive with her new challenger.

“Mr. Riggleman has pledged to join the Freedom Caucus and continue Tom Garrett’s ‘pristine’ conservative voting record in Washington, D.C.,” she said, assuring her supporters that her campaign “will continue to mobilize and grow the grassroots movement that we have collectively built over the past year.”

The Democratic Party of Virginia issued a separate statement Saturday, charging: “House Freedom Caucus hopeful Denver Riggleman compromised and cut enough deals to win the congressional nomination of a deeply damaged, divided and chaotic Republican Party.

“Leslie Cockburn has been traveling the district for almost a year, meeting voters where they are. Leslie’s values are in line with the needs and wants of 5th District voters. Leslie will be loyal to them in Congress, not to backroom promises or the House Freedom Caucus.”

Phone calls to Riggleman’s home in Afton, Va., were not returned. He is the owner of Silverback Distillery, which produces vodka, gin and whiskey.

An early favorite to replace Garrett on the ballot was popular state Sen. Bill Stanley of Franklin, but he pulled his name from consideration before Saturday’s voting, saying that running a hard-fought campaign at this late stage of the race would be too difficult on his family.

Among other Republicans who stood for the hastily held nomination to represent the 5th district, which stretches from Northern Virginia to the border with North Carolina, were Joe Whited, a Rappahannock County resident who ran unsuccessfully against Garrett in the 2016 primary; Delegate Michael Webert, who represents Rappahannock County in the state capitol; Martha Boneta, Michael del Rosso, and Republican National Committee member Cynthia Dunbar, who last month lost her primary bid in Virginia’s neighboring 6th district that includes Harrisonburg.

“There is no doubt in my mind that Denver Riggleman is the right man for the job this year,” said Republican Party of Virginia Chairman John Whitbeck. “Denver has amazing leadership skills that will no doubt propel him to victory in November.

“Republicans must not forget that we are up against a toxic anti-Semite in Leslie Cockburn. A Republican victory in the 5th district is vital to ensuring that racism and bigotry have no platform in the United States’ Congress.”

As reported in the Rappahannock News, no sooner did Cockburn get nominated by Democrats to face Garrett (and now Riggleman) in November and the state Republican Party labeled her “anti-Semitic.”

They held up the 1991 book she co-authored, “Dangerous Liaison: The Inside Story of the U.S.-Israeli Covert Relationship,” which Republicans claim “advocated for the inherently anti-Semitic belief that Israel controls American foreign policy.”

Cockburn, who wrote the book with her journalist husband, Andrew Cockburn, countered that the book was nothing more than a “brass tacks” examination of the “military and intelligence” relationship between the two countries, and was not centered around government and foreign policy.

“This is what Republicans do,” the Democrat told this newspaper.

As for a platform, Riggleman, who says he is mostly pro-life and supports states’ rights on gay marriage, has joined Cockburn in speaking out against Dominion Energy’s controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would run through his own Nelson County.

As for Donald Trump?

“I’m pretty much an independent guy,” Riggleman told reporters. “I agree with policy, not people. That’s how I’m wired.”

About John McCaslin 417 Articles
John McCaslin is the editor of the Rappahannock News. Email him at