It’s now up to the voters in the 5th District

Democrat Cockburn and Republican Riggleman ‘neck and neck’ into the homestretch

Democratic candidate Leslie Cockburn campaigning in Sperryville last year. By John McCaslin
GOP congressional candidate Denver Riggleman of Nelson County before marching in Amissville’s annual parade last summer. By John McCaslin

Election Day is hours away, and the two candidates vying to represent the sprawling 5th congressional district — 21 counties in all stretching from west of Dulles International Airport to the North Carolina border — are pulling out all the stops until the final votes are cast.

It’s clearly been a race to the finish line, with Democrat Leslie Cockburn of Rappahannock County recently securing the support of not one but two Warners — Democratic Sen. Mark Warner and former Republican Sen. John Warner — while Republican Denver Riggleman of Nelson County has been paid visits by Vice President Mike Pence and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

“Both Senators Warner were there to support me, so we had Mark and John. It was a bi-partisan event,” noted Cockburn, a former investigative journalist who must rely on GOP crossover support in the predominantly Republican district to get her over the top Tuesday. “That’s very important because . . . I find there are a lot of Republicans in the district who are coming our way.”

And of course Democrats, too.

Relayed Dr. Robert Burney of Sperryville: “I’ve been working with volunteers at the Leslie Cockburn office in Flint Hill. Six or eight volunteers is a standard day. Ten or 12 is unusual. Last night, we got a phone call to expect maybe 120 volunteers. Another 600 are going to Warrenton. People are coming from D.C. and Maryland.”

Riggleman, meanwhile, recently received the full endorsement of President Donald Trump, who through his vice president praised the U.S. military veteran and Virginia distillery owner as a “principled conservative” who is “committed to working with” the White House.

Still, the Republican assured his supporters in Warrenton on Friday that if elected he would only vote for legislation that is in the 5th district’s best interest. He also said that he is willing to work with Democrats despite the deep partisan divide, explaining it was about the person and the argument, not about the party.

“I’m still going to be working in my distillery on Saturdays,” Riggleman promised, “so if you guys need to talk to me, need to see me, come see me, because I’m going to be cleaning counters, I’m going to be doing dishes, I’m going to be serving drinks, because that’s what we do.”

“I was born in Manassas,” he added, repeating the charge that Cockburn is essentially a 5th district “weekender” who spends most of her time in Georgetown social circles.

As the endorsements came in for both candidates, ratings from University of Virginia political forecaster Larry Sabato have shifted the 5th district race from leaning Republican to a “toss-up.” Other independent pollsters agreed, describing the race at “neck and neck.”

Internal GOP polling touted by Riggleman, at the same time, gave the Republican a whopping 10 percentage point lead, although a spokesman for the candidate told this reporter that nobody in the campaign is taking those findings for granted.

Having been joined on the campaign trail Monday by her actress-activist daughter, Olivia Wilde, Cockburn will begin Election Day voting here in Rappahannock County, then will travel “all over” the district, arriving in Danville by afternoon, and then north again to Charlottesville (where Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam appeared with her on Sunday) to watch Election Day returns from Three Notch’d Craft Kitchen & Brewery.

After the Republican’s equally busy day of pressing flesh across the district, during which he’s offered rides to the polls and encouraged voters to call his Election Day Campaign Hotline if they “spot something fishy at your polling location,” Riggleman will hold his Election Night party at the Blue Mountain Brewery near his home in Nelson County.

About John McCaslin 466 Articles
John McCaslin is the editor of the Rappahannock News. Email him at