In a call with Republican congressional candidate Bob Good and his supporters Sunday night, President Donald Trump blasted opponent Cameron Webb as a “radical Democrat puppet” and sought to generate excitement for Good’s campaign.
“Bob is going to help very much, and we need strong warriors like Bob,” Trump said in a seven-minute phone call.
Webb has been outraising Good and enjoying unified Democrats after a four-person primary, while Good has been struggling to raise money and still dealing with the fallout from an unusual drive-thru convention, where he ousted first-term Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Nelson. Last week, Cook Political Report changed its ranking of the 5th Congressional District race in central Virginia from “Lean Republican” to “Toss Up.”
“This wasn’t originally a seat Republicans thought they’d have to worry about,” David Wasserman, Cook Political Report’s House expert, wrote about changing the status. “But the combination of GOP disunity, an exceptional Democratic candidate and a big fundraising disparity mean they’ll need to scramble to avert a disaster.”
On the phone call with Good supporters, Trump says Good will support his economic and energy agenda, defend gun rights and fight abortion rights. He said Webb was a “radical Democrat puppet” who would take his orders from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Webb, an internal medicine doctor and director of health policy and equity at the University of Virginia, worked at the White House during the Trump administration on drug pricing issues.
“It’s the most important election in the history of our country,” Trump said. “And I need every patriot in Virginia’s 5th Congressional District to get out and vote for Bob Good for Congress.”
Trump blamed the “NAFTA catastrophe” for “devastating” the 5th District, a refrain that is often brought up as the reason the textile industry collapsed in Southside. However, employment in American textiles started to decline in 1950s, long before the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994.
“I ended the NAFTA nightmare with the USMCA, and Bob and I will work closely to fight for your jobs in the 5th District,” Trump said.
On the phone call on Sunday, Trump took a swipe at Riggleman, who has so far refused to endorse Good and alleges the convention was “rigged,” by saying that Good won the convention because he was “more for Trump.” Trump endorsed Riggleman in the primary and last week announced his support for Good. Riggleman focused much of his campaign during the convention on praising Trump and his endorsement.
Wounds haven’t completely healed since Good, a former Campbell County supervisor and former Liberty University athletics official, defeated Riggleman in a convention this summer. Social conservatives who hadn’t come around to Riggleman, who describes himself as having a “mean libertarian streak,” when he became the nominee two years ago were set off when he officiated a same-sex wedding last summer.
There are some Republican activists and ardent Riggleman supporters who are dissatisfied. Perhaps not coincidentally, national media stories about the race have focused on disunity among Republicans.
Still, in interviews with dozens of voters in the district in the past few weeks, more people who supported Riggleman plan to back the entire Republican ticket than leave the congressional race blank or write in another name. They viewed their vote not about supporting Good, but about making sure Republicans don’t lose the 5th District and jeopardize the party’s chances at retaking the House of Representatives. None of them said they would vote for Webb, but some Republicans have said they have or plan to write in Riggleman’s name.
Josh Freeman, who said he’s got libertarian leanings and liked Riggleman, said he doesn’t usually do straight-ticket voting for one party but he probably will this year. Even though he would prefer Riggleman over Good, he said not voting for Good would do more harm than good.
“Even if I don’t support a candidate wholeheartedly, I’m going to support that candidate on the ballot,” Freeman said.
Del. Wendell Walker, R-Lynchburg, a longtime GOP activist, said he’s confident Republicans disgruntled about the outcome of the convention will rally around Good by Election Day.
“Bob is a solid Christian conservative that will adhere to the principles of our Constitution,” said Walker, who lives in the neighboring 6th Congressional District, but got to know Good through their time as members of Thomas Road Baptist Church. “I don’t think Bob is someone you have to worry about in Washington. I think that’s something that people didn’t like about the current congressman.”
By the end of June, Webb had raised $1.3 million, whereas Good had raised $259,000, according to financial filings.
There has been a steady stream of TV ads from the Webb campaign focusing on his background and responding to attacks from the Good campaign. In anticipation of Good accusing Webb of being anti-police, Webb’s campaign rolled out an ad with endorsements from multiple rural sheriffs. Webb’s father worked in law enforcement for 20 years.
Additionally, political action committees have joined the airwaves with ads criticizing Good.
“Now all of a sudden, he’s running as moderate, if you’ve seen his ads, and he claims he wants to work with both sides,” Good said at a rally in support of law enforcement in Bedford earlier this month. “There’s nothing moderate about embracing leftist radicals, who seek to defund our law enforcement and tear down our institutions.”
The National Republican Congressional Committee launched an ad for Good, showing images of riots and warning people to “look past the smooth presentation” from Webb, who is Black. Last week, Good, a former wrestler and wrestling coach, put out an ad of him wrestling his son on a mat and vowing to “put liberal ideas in a headlock.”
It’ll still be tough for Webb to win in the 5th Congressional District — the largest geographically in the state — which spans from Southside up to the edge of the Northern Virginia suburbs and includes Franklin County and much of Bedford County.
“From day one, our campaign has been about putting people over party to get things done on the issues that matter most,” Webb said. “I’m excited that voters are responding to our message of consensus-building leadership and I look forward to continuing to build on this momentum as we work to earn the votes of the people of Virginia’s 5th District.”
The last time a Democrat won the seat was in 2008, when Tom Perriello upset incumbent Republican Virgil Goode, aided by record-high African American turnout in Charlottesville and the small rural towns in the 5th District as well as Barack Obama’s run for president. Perriello lasted only one term. Redistricting has made the district more favorable to Republicans.
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