By Jim Ellis
May 30, 2018 — Late last week, with rumors swirling that Virginia freshman Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Scottsville/Charlottesville) would not seek a second term, the congressman called a news conference to announce that he would run even though the day’s opening comments seemed to point in an opposite direction. On Memorial Day, however, not only did he reverse course by announcing that he was changing his mind about continuing his political career and actually would not run, but he also publicly admitted that he was an alcoholic and was seeking treatment for it.
With that announcement, District VA-5 becomes the 62nd House open seat and the 42nd that the Republicans must defend; but this latest development may actually help the GOP hold the central Virginia CD. With the scenario of a weakened Rep. Garrett heading into a general election against a well-funded Democrat, it is now probable that with a fresh candidate replacing Garrett, GOP retention chances would be improved.
Both Rep. Garrett and Democrat Leslie Cockburn, an award winning “60 Minutes” producer for CBS News, are unopposed in the June 12 primary. Once Rep. Garrett becomes the official nominee and withdraws, the local congressional district Republican Party will then meet in a special convention to choose a replacement standard bearer.
As we mentioned in our previous article covering this political situation, Virginia’s 5th District occupies 19 central-south state counties and parts of two others. It also includes the cities of Charlottesville and Danville. Beginning at the Virginia-North Carolina border, the 5th drives north well past Interstate 66, coming close to the town of Middleburg in northern Virginia.
The district’s political history is solidly conservative, both when the Democrats dominated the electorate for more than 100 years through the 1990’s and in the present time under Republican voting patterns. Therefore, it is doubtful that a Democratic nominee who can easily be painted as a New York/Hollywood liberal (Cockburn and her husband, Harper’s magazine Washington editor Andrew Cockburn, are the parents of actress Olivia Wilde) is a good fit for the socially conservative contingent that continues to hold the balance of political power.
While true that Cockburn is well positioned to exceed the Democratic base points in the University of Virginia college town of Charlottesville, and even in neighboring Albemarle County, the city is only six percent of the district’s population while the county comprises just 13 percent of the CD inhabitant total.
Though the new Republican nominee will have to start quickly from scratch against a Democratic candidate who has already raised over $700,000 but only had $271,000 in the bank through the April 15 reporting period, the national GOP apparatus and Super PACs will likely be positioned in the short-term to compensate for the difference.
While the 5th District’s political picture has been likened to a roller coaster effect during the past few days, we can expect such uncertainty to continue for at least another month until a new general election campaign develops. In any event, the VA-5 campaign will continue to draw national political attention.