By Jim EllisJune 16, 2020 — Despite Virginia Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-Manassas) being the incumbent representative for the state’s 5th District, losing his party’s re-nomination for a second term on Saturday came as no surprise.
Largely blamed upon his presiding over a same-sex marriage involving two of his campaign volunteers, Rep. Riggleman fell at odds with the district Republican Party leaders. Virginia has the most unique nomination system in the country. There is no standardized primary, and each set of congressional district party authorities can conduct a virtually autonomous process for choosing its partisan general election candidates.
The congressional district committees can nominate in a standard primary or through what they call a “firehouse primary,” where only a few voting places are established throughout the jurisdiction, or, in what often happens on the Republican side, a district convention. Usually the party leaders work with their incumbents to choose the system that will benefit the top officeholder in the region, but not in Riggleman’s case.
In fact, the 5th District Republican committee chose exactly what would be to Rep. Riggleman’s greatest detriment. Because of the COVID-19 situation, they were unable to host a typical district convention. Therefore, the committee adopted what they termed a “drive-in convention,” where the delegates would come from throughout the district to just one specific location, drive into a building parking lot, and cast their ballot.
The fix against Riggleman went so far as to hold the drive-in convention in the church parking lot of where his challenger, Campbell County Supervisor and Liberty University athletic official Bob Good, is a member. Campbell County is in the far western end of the district, near the city of Lynchburg, and is more closely aligned with the 6th District.
The location decision meant the vast majority of delegates, and everyone from Riggleman’s geographic strength, would have to drive several hours in order to simply deposit their ballot envelope. The 5th stretches all the way to the Washington, DC outer Virginia suburbs, but the main population anchor is in and around the city of Charlottesville.