Riggleman marches through Amissville, challenges Cockburn to debate on home turf

Republican denies campaign ties to white nationalist movement

They weren’t presidential aspirants stumping at the same Iowa county fair, but for Republican Denver Riggleman and Democrat Leslie Cockburn, vying to fill Virginia’s 5th district seat on Capitol Hill, the Amissville Fire and Rescue parade and carnival Thursday evening was equally important.

So much so that Riggleman, picked last month by Republican activists to replace Rep. Tom Garrett on the November ballot, told this newspaper prior to the parade that if Cockburn agrees he will come back to her home base of Rappahannock County to debate.

GOP congressional candidate Denver Riggleman of Nelson County before marching in Amissville’s annual parade Thursday night. By John McCaslin

And the Cockburn campaign said bring it on. Reached over the weekend, spokesperson Louise Bruce said “Leslie would be delighted to participate” in a debate against Riggleman in the county seat of Washington, with September as the target date.

Rappahannock resident and Democratic congressional candidate Leslie Cockburn (second from left in turquoise shirt) chose to ride on a hay wagon for the parade. Courtesy photo

“I’m right down the road, and I think she lives pretty close, too, so if she’s willing, I’m willing,” Riggleman said. “As many times as she wants to debate, as many times as she wants to talk about policy, or what the Democrats want to do — which isn’t much, but whatever they think they’re going to do — I’m game. And I would love to come here to do it.”

As in Cockburn’s back yard, where the Rappahannock County resident has established a well-organized and enthusiastic army of supporters, easily multiplied across the district as reflected by her party’s May caucuses, when the Democrat handily defeated her three male opponents.

But Riggleman said he doesn’t give second thought to setting foot on his opponent’s home turf.

“No, I bombed the Taliban, why would I care about that?” he asked. “This is my home state. I was born here. She wasn’t. So I’m a Virginian, and there’s no place in Virginia I’m afraid to go.”

Including marching and pressing flesh along a crowded Amissville parade route, accompanied by a contingent of Rappahannock Republicans keeping their distance behind a hay wagon carrying Cockburn and her supporters, clad in matching blue campaign shirts. Cockburn chose not to march in the parade.

Meanwhile, asked to sum up his first month of campaigning, Riggleman, an Air Force intelligence officer-turned-craft distiller from Nelson County, said: “It’s been fundraising, it’s been getting our staff together, it’s organizational things that we had to do — it’s been a whirlwind, the learning curve is straight up.”

In addition, Riggleman revealed that he’s already spent a considerable chunk of time huddling with Republican lawmakers beneath the dome of the U.S. Capitol.

“I’ve been going to D.C. meeting with congressmen, meeting with other Republicans, getting the lay of the land. I’ve been up there probably eight or nine days of the last three-and-a-half weeks,” he disclosed, “just getting a feel for the place. Because I’m going to win, so I better be ready.”

It was barely a month ago, on May 28, that embattled freshman Congressman Garrett announced he was struggling with alcoholism and therefore would not seek a second term. The surprise admission followed a string of unflattering media reports about the lawmaker, not the least alleging that Garrett and his wife had congressional staff performing their personal chores.

“Tom and I got along very well, he’s a good man,” Riggleman first stressed, when asked to explain how his approach to public office would differ from Garrett, a former prosecutor. “I think some of our policies are going to align, but I think there are some differences based on my knowledge of the business climate right now.

“I think Tom was very focused on certain types of policy . . . he was a legal guy,” he said. “But for me, I’m a small business guy, so I’m low taxes. I’m about cronyism, because I can’t stand it. I’m about anti-corruption. I probably lean more to putting more money into people’s pockets based on just what I’m wired with.”

In addition, Riggleman said if elected in November the constituents would see a lot more of him than they might have of Garrett, who was often criticized for spending scant time in a district that stretches from Northern Virginia to North Carolina.

“So right now on November 6th, when I win, I will be transitioning my companies, all my shares from my distillery. I’m going to be 100 percent a congressman,” Riggleman vowed. “I’m in Nelson County, I’m right in the middle of the district. So I can visit everyone. You’re going to see me more. I think people are going to get tired of seeing me.”

As for the biggest issues facing the district, Riggleman replied: “Jobs, jobs. You see a superheated economy, but it seems like it’s not reaching some of the areas of the 5th district that it needs to reach.

“I don’t think you create more taxpayer funded incentives,” he continued. “I think you deregulate and you start taking away the constraints for business growth, and I’m pretty good at that. It’s about keeping the government out of your pocket and out of your lives.”

It did not appear that Riggleman and Cockburn spoke with each other following the parade. That said, Cockburn supporters Kit Goldfarb and Dan Lanigan of Washington wrote in a letter to the editor published today that at the end of the parade, when standing near the Democratic hay wagon, “someone on the Republican float started shouting ‘Lock Her Up’ and other taunts.”

Meanwhile, the Cockburn campaign charged last week that Riggleman “recently campaigned with white nationalist Isaac Smith at a Republican campaign office in Albemarle County.”

“By rolling out the welcome mat to white nationalist Isaac Smith, Denver’s made it clear where he stands on hate and bigotry,” the Cockburn release quoted Democratic Party of Virginia Chairwoman Susan Swecker, who stated that Smith and white nationalist Jason Kessler were founders of Unity and Security for America, “a white supremacist group that works to promote radical right goals and peddle anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.”

Asked by the Rappahannock News to respond, Riggleman denied campaigning with Smith. “BS,” he said of his opponent’s accusation

A spokesman accompanying Riggleman to Rappahannock quickly explained that Smith was at a Republican committee office in Albemarle County where Riggleman appeared three days after being chosen to replace Garrett.

The spokesman shared with the News an August 2017 Facebook posting by Smith, who was also reportedly an intern for Garrett’s 2016 congressional campaign, in which the young man stated: “I ended my association with Jason Kessler after the first torchlight rally back in May [in Charlottesville] . . .

“I have condemned racism every time it has come up,” Smith posted. “Before the rally I gave interviews to the [Charlottesville] Daily Progress and the [central Virginia] Schilling Show denouncing the Alt-right turn Jason has taken. My prior involvement concerned removing [Charlottesville] Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy from office and advocating non-interventionism and immigration reform. That is not what Jason stands for; he now stands for starting the next civil war.”

About John McCaslin 450 Articles
John McCaslin is the editor of the Rappahannock News. Email him at editor@rappnews.com.