Home 2018 Elections The Clown Car Has Arrived- Analyzing the Republican Contenders In VA-05

The Clown Car Has Arrived- Analyzing the Republican Contenders In VA-05

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In just two days, thirty-seven conservative activists will select the Republican nominee for Virginia’s 5th Congressional District, following the (not-so) surprising news of Representative Tom Garrett’s decision to not run for re-election.

As an ER Nurse, a committed Christian, and just a decent human being, I sincerely wish Garrett the best in dealing with his alcoholism. It’s a terrible disease, which I see the effects of every single day in my ER, and it IS a medical problem- a physical dependency, not just a “tough it out” thing. I hope he comes out the other side of this stronger than he was before.

As a citizen of the 5th District and as an aspiring politician, however, I can’t help but be happy that Garrett will be a one-term representative. Outside of a group of sycophants he developed, nobody liked him. And for good reason. The fact that Garrett held the seat once occupied by none other than James Madison was galling beyond all belief. Garrett was crude, rude, didn’t care about anyone who wouldn’t lick his boots or who he could exploit for political gain, and wasn’t afraid who knew it. I now have a slew of text messages that are no good for oppo anymore- and that was the tip of the iceberg on what Tom Garrett was up to.

There was much worse stuff behind it, which the national and state Republicans have known since the beginning. It wasn’t until they became terrified of Leslie Cockburn winning that they bothered to act on it, which is pretty fitting given the VA GOP’s new slogan of “party before country.” Though I have to be impressed – if staffers from Republican State Senators are feeding ME oppo in an attempt to kneecap Garrett – hoo, buddy. You know things are bad.

With that, I thought I’d give a brief rundown on the major contenders for the race, so you can have a better idea of who we’ll be facing this fall – and who we need to start organizing against.

Denver Riggleman
Denver is, perhaps, the most “legitimately 5th” of the top-tier candidates. What I mean by that is that Riggleman’s been the most sincere resident of the 5th District, not parachuting in from Louisa like Tom Garrett did when he saw there’d be an open seat, or moving specifically to cause trouble for the Fauquier County Board and nurture a social media following, or being rich. Riggleman lives, works, owns a successful business- a very successful one at that. Riggleman makes damn good bourbon, is a veteran, etc, etc.

Ostensibly, he would be the strongest of their candidates. He is unapologetically anti-pipeline, having a “NO EMINENT DOMAIN FOR DOMINION GAIN” sign up on his property in Nelson. He has a fiery and sincere libertarian streak. I say “sincere” because I see a lot of “libertarians” (*coughnickfreitascough*) who are really just antsy about the label “Republican” gives them, and are effectively saying: “How can I shed the negative aspects of being a Republican while violating personal liberties whenever it’s convenient for me? I know! I’ll call myself a ‘libertarian’!”

I imagine this is Denver’s pitch to his side; he can pick up moderates/independents, or at least convince disaffected Democrats to sit out the 5th District race; let them vote for Kaine and skip the next line down.

There are a few problems here, though.

One is simply that premonition – discord? Disaffection? Hah! From a contentious primary process, you’d expect that. But I’ve seen the righteous fire that makes up the Blue Wave here in VA-05, and let me tell you, the folks here are ready to march through Hell itself to save our Republic.

Problem number two is that I think the above argument holds no weight in the circle of thirty-eight Republican men (EDIT: I stand corrected, that’s only THIRTY men and seven women) who’ll be selecting these candidates. C’mon, now. The only driving principle of the GOP today when it considers a policy, position, or tweet (the new form of governing) is this: “Will this make some libs angry? If yes, do it, no matter what it is.”

And last but not least is Riggleman’s demeanor. Denver has a temper, and has pissed off the VA GOP innumerable times. Recently, he helped get a bill passed to rectify some of the wrongs suffered by distilleries here in the Commonwealth; they had to do crazy crap like go buy their OWN PRODUCT from a VABC store just to sell/give tastings out at their OWN FACILITY. Really stupid. But, of course, you can always count on Republicans to bend over for industry lobbyists from megacorporations like Diageo, using the muscle of a state-owned monopoly to stick it to small Virginia businesses.

Anyway, Denver became a menace to legislators in Richmond in his pursuit to change it. They became terrified of him. I heard of a story of a Republican Senator who literally fled their office at the mention that Denver was coming to see them, because Denver’s temper is notorious. You gotta remember, these elected folks aren’t there to have a backbone, they’re there to get re-elected with the minimum effort expended possible. But as a consequence, Riggleman is persona non grata in the VA GOP, and is a wild card because they can’t control him. They won’t lift a finger to help him. A VA05 county party official I know told me a lot of folks are excited to finally “show him up.” Heck, if you want evidence of that, right-wing radio host John Fredericks did his best to malign him on his announcement show the other day, sneering that Denver was a “social liberal,” a death knell as a Republican. John is only channeling the id of the Republican Party.

There’s zero chance they’ll pick Denver. That’s why I don’t see him being a serious contender.

Martha Boneta
Of all the candidates on the slate, Martha concerns me most of all.

Listening to the John Fredericks show on Tuesday morning when Martha Boneta announced her candidacy, I was taken back to the Fall of 2008, when in the aftermath of the Vice Presidential debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin, Rich Lowry of the National Review said:

“Palin… projects through the screen like crazy. I’m sure I’m not the only male in America who, when Palin dropped her first wink, sat up a little straighter on the couch and said, ‘Hey, I think she just winked at me.’ And her smile. By the end, when she clearly knew she was doing well, it was so sparkling it was almost mesmerizing. It sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America.”

Completely fawning, unhinged, and maybe even a wee bit lecherous. Well, that’s exactly the sense I got listening to John Fredericks’ show on Tuesday. Contrary to rumors that she was not going to run (and was possibly going to endorse Denver Riggleman), reported by a couple news agencies as well as independent bloggers like Ben Tribbett (aka Not Larry Sabato), Ms. Boneta instead hesitatingly launched her campaign for the House of Representatives to replace Tom Garrett, to the almost sultry approval of Mr. Fredericks. Indeed, supposedly it was two things that made Ms. Boneta change her mind; being worked hard by John Fredericks, and a Blue Virginia article that was released on Monday night that castigated her extreme and reactionary political views and acquaintances.

I know what you’re thinking. No resume. Impulsive. Extreme. Sensitive (she’s already been proactiving blocking folks on Twitter who disagree with her or say anything other than glowing about her, particularly Democrats- and has been retweeting her own good press). Sounds like the perfect candidate to go up against, right?

Nah. I don’t buy it. It’s the Year of the Woman. She is a younger version of Sarah Palin – her nickname in Republican circles is apparently Don’t Tread On Me Barbie for a reason – and a more legitimate one. Yes, she bought her farm in Fauquier to start a fight with their county board – knowing full well it was under conservation easement – and then immediately setting about violating the terms of the easement to garner attention for herself. But even with that being true, I’m told she actually knows about farming, unlike Sarah Palin, who was a completely empty suit.

Martha makes noises about being an “anti-establishment” candidate, but is nothing of the sort. She is in hard and in lockstep with the current, HARD right Republican establishment – Sebastian Gorka, Judge Jeanine, Mike Pence, the Trump family, Sheriff David Clarke, etc, etc. – and thus is likely ideally suited to garner support and fundraise the millions of dollars it’d take to beat Leslie Cockburn, who will be able to fundraise herself like no candidate in the 5th ever has before.

The 5th District was always going to be a tough one, and call it “slimy” if you want, but from talking to a slew of folks in the various GOP camps, I understand that Martha Boneta can deftly go from talking up Corey Stewart and his inevitable win, to rolling her eyes at the “Stewart burnouts” and holler “Freedom rising!”, the Freitas campaign slogan, while posing with Nick himself. And all she has to do is endear herself to 38 uber-conservatives.

The VA GOP flacks would pick her over any of the other candidates here in a heartbeat because they know the truth, too. I get real concerned about our prospects to win the 5th if she’s the nominee.

Michael Webert
Hahahaha.

Oh, wait. He was serious. Let me laugh louder.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Jim McKelvey
This isn’t Jim’s first rodeo in the 5th, having run in 2010 and 2016 in the primary. I’m led to believe that, if the shenanigans I heard about how Tom Garrett won the nominating contest on the Republican side in 2016 are true, Jim is still infuriated – for good reason.

I get the sense he put his name in mostly to keep things honest in the 5th CD. Jim has a lot of clout on the Republican side, including the soft power of his money and influence – both of which, compared to a Congressional seat, come with a lot more actual power and no accountability (except to himself). Possible he’d give that advantage up to run for Congress, but I think that’d be foolish.

Bill Stanley
A senator from Southside, whose district includes parts of both the 5th and 9th District, Bill Stanley is pretty low key. As a “high profile” politician on the Republican side that resides in the 5th, other than Rob Bell or Nick Freitas, conventional wisdom would say Stanley would be a high target to run for the 5th now.  (Lowell’s note: yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw referred to Stanley, snarkily, as “the Congressman from Franklin”).

I’m skeptical. Why give up a safe seat, one of the few that will probably survive both court-ordered and the every-decade redistricting that is coming on the horizon? There will be a whole slew of new faces in Richmond come the 2021-2023 election cycles, as politicians on both side who drew themselves into comfortable little districts in 2010 find themselves having to, for the first time in a decade, actually campaign and try to win in competitive races. This is why people like Delegate Rob Bell chose not to run- other than being pretty milquetoast, Rob literally drew up his own district, even having the audacity to brag about it to the local media (“So? Everyone did it.”)

Unlike Mr. Bell, though, Bill Stanley is well positioned to ride out redistricting and be a leader in the Republican caucus. Why give that up, knowing the 5th CD is likely to look dramatically different come 2020, with more stringent campaign finance rules (compared to Virginia state politics, anyway), in a district the size of New Jersey that’s now incredibly competitive? Especially given the (ultimately unsuccessful) shenanigans he’s been helping to pull to try and kill Medicaid expansion here in the 5th District of Virginia? I mean, if he wants to be directly and personally responsible for helping his opponent’s base get fired up beyond all belief, then, yes- Senator Stanley might run.

It’s not impossible by far. I just don’t see it right now.

Bryce Reeves
Good God. Where do I start?

Bryce Reeves, for those of you who didn’t catch it, was supposed to be Tom Garrett’s hand-picked successor to the 5th District race. This is odd because, while the 17th Senate District was gerrymandered to include a chunk of the 5th, right here in Albemarle County, Reeves lives in SPOTSYLVANIA COUNTY. Literally as far from the 5th Congressional District as he can get in the 17th Senate District.

This makes some sense only in that Tom Garrett, Nick Freitas, and Bryce Reeves were/are all in some-sort of unholy alliance with each other. Best buds. A master plan to take over Virginia politics. And they all have bought into their own hype. What, you think Nick Freitas thought he’d beat Tim Kaine? Ahahahahahah! Heck, he’s not even going to beat Corey Stewart! But as long as his name gets out there when he announces a state-wide run for 2021, it’s okay. Same with Reeves; together, the three of them were going to rule the Commonwealth! Mwah hahahahaha!

Problem is, you have to have a modicum of talent, honor, and un-crazy-itude to win statewide in the Commonwealth these days. And my friends, those three Republicans have none of those things.

Bryce, in particular, is in a pickle. Now, all three of those folks- Reeves, Garrett, and Freitas- bought their own hype, and bought it hard. Which made them completely unafraid to nuke any and all bridges or party connections they came across if it suited them. Reeves, in particular, has done this; sneered at party officials and activists behind their backs, gone out of his way to backstab or just steamroll committees, break rules as is convenient for him, rewarded sycophancy above all else. He rode to power on the backs of the Tea Party and then told them to **** off when they came to him after the election. Hell, the Tea Party even held an LG debate in Goochland, and not only did he unapologetically stiff them on his share of the cost, he was so disdainful about it they kicked him out of the event entirely.

And now he’s terrified he’s going to lose his job. I’ve heard of two people planning to primary him, and it’s my understanding is that he has been so desperate about it he’s reaching out to Democrats to try and convince them to support HIM over his primary opponents; asking them to find oppo on those opponents, help him keep tabs on them, etc. Which would go to show how much he’s bought into his own hype if he thinks any Democrats would actually help HIM, instead of immediately leaking that desperation to every source possible.

This is Reeves’ only chance to stay in power, and he is desperate to take it. And I hope the Republicans are stupid enough to pick him. My God! A high school civics student could write the Cockburn attack lines. The champagne would be flowing in their headquarters. I don’t even see how he can possibly make any argument that this is anything less than a craven political maneuver from someone desperate to stay relevant.

Look, I get because of gerrymandering, you could have more of an attachment to a different district than the one you live in. Hell, Bryce knows that; a major sin of the Virginia Senate Democrats is that they pushed for a district that literally attempted to exclude Bryce Reeves’ house from it, cutting the lines maliciously around what they thought was his house in order to keep him from running. And I get it personally myself; I live so close to the 17th District that I can almost see it from my house in the winter. I literally cross between the 25th and 17th and 24th six times on my drive to work (which is IN the 17th) every day. My kids go to school in the 17th. My wife was a Louisa County firefighter. Orange and Louisa counties, hardest hit in our area by the opiate crisis and the Great Recession, are the folks I serve every day as an ER nurse. Our family has a sincere connection to the 17th.

But don’t tell me for an instant that if I filed to run in the 17th, the Republican Party of Virginia wouldn’t rake my butt over the coals for it. Heck, it’d be their primary attack line. The fact they VA GOP is seriously and shamelessly considering Reeves at all tells you all you need to know about the priorities of the Republican Party of Virginia- and about Reeves himself.

Some Guy I Never Heard Of
A semi-sane Republican who apparently is pro-Planned Parenthood and anti-corruption threw his name in, which- don’t get me wrong- is great, but there’s just no chance. C’mon.

Cynthia Dunbar
A last minute edition, unhinged Cynthia Dunbar, who just lost the race for the 6th District nomination, has apparently been working the phones here in the 5th District.

To which I can only say- oh, please, please, Republicans. Don’t nominate Cynthia. Anyone but Cynthia Dunbar! We don’t stand a chance against Cynthia! Oh, woe betide us!

Me
That’s right, Virginia Republicans. I, Kellen Squire, would like to announce I am officially a candidate to run for Congress in the 5th Congressional District. Trust me, it’s perfect- I’ve got a Twitter bot scripted to tweet MAGA memes, and it’ll insult anyone who disagrees with me for any reason. Just let me know where to pick up the Koch brothers money- I think $5 million would be a good , and if you could, just make it out to “cash”  for tax purposes. My platform will largely revolve around mandatory casual Fridays, jail time for people who drive slowly in the left lane, and a national humiliation registry of people who order their steaks well done. So somewhat more coherent and relevant than your average Republican platform.