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Virginia GOP U.S. Rep. Denver Riggleman ousted at party convention amid gay wedding controversy

Challenger Bob Good defeats Riggleman in drive-thru convention; Riggleman hints at challenge to results over “irregularities”

LYNCHBURG, Virginia (CFP) — Last summer, freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Denver Riggleman of Virginia agreed to preside at the wedding of two men who had supported him during his 2018 campaign for Congress.

That gesture of friendship and inclusivity has now cost Riggleman his seat, even with Donald Trump’s support and a solid conservative voting record.

Riggleman, center, presides at gay wedding (From Facebook/Christine Riggleman)

In a party convention Saturday, Riggleman, who represents the state’s 5th District, was defeated by Campbell County Supervisor Bob Good, a former athletics official at Liberty University who was recruited to run for the position by conservative activists unhappy with the congressman’s participation in a same-sex wedding.

Good took 58 percent of the convention delegates to 42 percent for Riggleman. Because of the coronavirus, more than 2,400 convention delegates cast their ballots from their cars in the parking lot of Tree of Life Ministries in Lynchburg.

However, Riggleman indicated Saturday night that he might challenge the results over what he termed “voting irregularities and ballot stuffing.”

“Voter fraud has been a hallmark of this nomination process, and I will not stand for it,” Riggleman tweeted shortly before the results were announced. “We are evaluating all our options at this time.”

Speaking to supporters after results were announced in the early hours of Sunday morning, Good said delegates had “embraced true and conservative principles that we have presented for this campaign and the true contrast that we showed.”

“We believed from the beginning that the 5th District was a bright red district that would embrace us,” he said. “The voters have embraced our values, they have embraced our principles, and they have embraced our platform.”

Party officials in the 5th District had opted for a convention, rather than a primary, which Virginia law allows. Riggleman had derided the drive-thru convention format as a “Dairy Queen convention,” although he was selected as the nominee in a convention two years ago.

The voting process took more than 10 hours, and it took six hours to tabulate the votes.

The district stretches through central Virginia from the Washington D.C. suburbs to the North Carolina border, including Charlottesville and suburban areas near Roanoke and Lynchburg. Riggleman carried it by 7 points in 2018.

Democrats running in the June 23 primary in the 5th District immediately pounced on the news of Good’s win, which will set up a fall race with a nominee who describes himself as “biblical conservative,” rather than embracing Riggleman’s more libertarian positions.

“Denver Riggleman voted with Trump 94% of the time and got his endorsement. Virginia Republicans did not think that was enough,” said Rappahannock County Supervisor John Lesinski in a statement posted on Twitter. “Just imagine what Bob Good will do to our district. It is revolting. We need this seat.”

“I don’t fall on the same side of a lot of issues as Denver Riggleman, but the fact that there is there is no longer space in the Republican Party for someone not pushing an agenda as extreme and radical as Bob Good should send a chill down every Americans spine,” said Claire Russo, a former Marine intelligence officer and fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, in a Twitter video.

“Republicans just doubled-down on partisan bickering and chaos in Washington,” said RD Huffstetler, a Marine veteran and technology executive in a statement posted on Twitter. “Bob Good’s divisive and partisan ideology is plainly out of step with what the people of our district want or need.”

Also running in the Democratic primary is Cameron Webb, a Charlottesville physician and former Obama White House aide, who told journalist Amy Friedenberger of the Roanoke Times that Good’s nomination “is a reflection of how misguided and off-base the Republican Party in VA-05 is when comes to understanding the needs and concerns of the folks who live here.”

Good told his supporters that he was looking forward to running against the Democratic nominee, “who will undoubtedly embrace the radical socialist agenda of the Democrat Party.”

In July 2019, Anthony LeCounte and Alex Pisciarino asked Rigglemen to preside at their wedding, held at a winery in the Blue Ridge foothills. The men have said they got involved in Riggleman’s 2018 campaign because of his record on LBGTQ issues, including his support for same-sex marriage.

But after the Washington Post and other media outlets picked up the story of a conservative congressman marrying two men, the backlash was immediate. Several GOP county committees in the district voted to censure him, although the larger 5th District committee rejected censure.

However, Trump endorsed Riggleman in a tweet, and he also had the support of Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., Good’s former boss. However, Falwell’s brother, Jonathan, senior pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, supported Good, as did the two most recent occupants of the 5th District seat, former U.S. Reps. Tom Garrett and Virgil Good.

Good, 54, was senior associate athletic director at Liberty, his alma mater, from 2005 until earlier this year. In 2015, was elected as a supervisor in Campbell County, just south of Lynchburg. There he helped pass a measure declaring the county a “2nd Amendment sanctuary” to oppose efforts by Democratic legislators in Richmond to advance gun control measures.

Riggleman, 50, is a former Air Force intelligence officer who operates a distillery in Afton.

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