The Republican congressman who could get booted for officiating a gay wedding
“I didn’t grow up in that political pipeline,” he said. “I think I scare the hell out of people because I just say, ‘Hey, that’s corrupt. Don’t do that.'”
The convention, initially set for April 25, was moved due to the coronavirus pandemic. Melvin Adams, the chairman of the 5th District’s committee, pushed back against claims the process was engineered to disadvantage any candidate.
“My responsibility is not to any campaign,” he said, stressing that there is no rule against committee members working for campaigns. “It is to the party, our party plan, which is essentially a bible for our party that guides us. It’s the rulebook. I can’t make things up as I go. I don’t care how bad campaigns want me to. “
Good is projecting confidence in his prospects, declaring last month that he has support from 62 percent of the delegates to the convention, a claim that Riggleman refutes.
The road to Saturday’s convention began in July 2019, when Riggleman officiated the wedding of two men who had volunteered for his campaign. His wife posted a picture of the wedding on her Facebook page.
Several GOP county committees in the district later voted to censure the congressman. The 5th District committee also debated a censure motion, but it did not pass. Good entered the race last September and has said he was recruited by Republicans in the district.
The vote will be a signal about whether socially conservative positions out of step with the majority of Americans are still considered wedge issues for GOP voters. But Good, who stepped down from the Liberty University athletic department to run, has said his opposition to Riggleman extends beyond his willingness to officiate a gay marriage.
“What does Denver stand for?” Good said in a radio debate between the two candidates last month. “What conservative Republican issue is he strong on? What can you point to? He’s out of step with the base of the party on life. He’s out of step on marriage. He’s out of step on immigration. He’s out of step on health care, on climate, on drug legalization.”
Good and his campaign did not respond to multiple requests for an interview for this story. His campaign told a Lynchburg TV station that the candidate “will not be taking interviews this week as we prepare for Saturday’s convention.”
Riggleman’s quick rise to Congress gave him little opportunity to cultivate relationships with power players in his district. Former Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.) decided to retire in 2018 after securing renomination amid claims that he treated members of his congressional staff like servants. Garrett, who only served one term, cited an ongoing problem with alcoholism.
The 5th District committee chose Riggleman to replace Garrett on the ballot, and he won election in November by 7 points, beating Leslie Cockburn, an author and the mother of actress Olivia Wilde. Garrett has endorsed Good — as has former Rep. Virgil Goode, who held the district until he was ousted by Democrat Tom Perriello in 2008.
Despite his prominent opponents, Riggleman has a powerful ally in Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University and Good’s former employer.
“I really think the people who are opposing him over social issues are misguided,” Falwell said in a brief interview with POLITICO. The Supreme Court, not Congress, he said, makes decisions pertaining to the legality of marriage.
“He’s a congressman who’s proven he can win,” he said. “He’s already done it once, and he’s a successful businessman — and I can’t say that about his opponent in any way, shape or form.”
President Donald Trump, who also backed Riggleman in December and has touted the undefeated record of his endorsed candidates in GOP primaries this year, won the district by 11 points in 2016. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee placed the district on its target list.
Cockburn is not running again, but there is a contested Democratic primary, which will be held on June 23. Top contenders include physician Cameron Webb, Marine veteran RD Huffstetler, who ran for the seat in 2018, and Claire Russo, another Marine veteran backed by EMILY’s List.
Part of Riggleman’s pitch is that he will be a stronger contender to hold the seat in November. Good has not proven to be a prolific fundraiser. He had raised less than $200,000 as of late May.
But privately some Republicans fear whoever secures the nomination will need outside help to hold the seat. Good is relatively unknown and will need to introduce himself to the district beyond the several thousand delegates. If Riggleman wins, he will have to quickly refill his coffers and try to unite a divided party.
“Whether Denver wins or loses, national Republicans are going to have to spend money to retain the seat,” said one longtime GOP operative in the state. “And they shouldn’t have to.”