Virginia’s Sleeper Race

The sleeper contest in Virginia this year could be in Virginia’s 5th Congressional District.

The incumbent is Republican Tom Garrett, a freshman congressman and one-time “Cuccinelli conservative” who has generated his share of awkward headlines and unforced errors in his political career.

Democrats will choose their nominee at a party convention in Farmville Saturday. The likely choice, given the preconvention caucus results: award-winning journalist Leslie Cockburn, whose campaign has ruffled local Democratic feathers and comes with some heavy literary baggage that will require a lot of explaining.

It should be a colorful race between a committed progressive and a staunch conservative – just the kind of race Democrats must win if they hope to gain control of the House of Representatives.

Based on past election results, it should be relatively easy for Garrett to win the largely rural district that stretches from the North Carolina border to the D.C. exurbs.

He won the open seat by almost 60,000 votes in 2016, carrying 19 of the District’s 23 localities and running well ahead of Donald Trump.

Better yet for Garrett? The District went for Republican Ed Gillespie by 9 percentage points over Democrat Ralph Northam in the 2017 gubernatorial race.

So how could this possibly be a sleeper race?

The Cook Political Report rates the 5th District as “leans Republican.” Not terrible, but it’s the same rating Cook has for Rep. Dave Brat, who will face spirited and well-financed Democratic opposition.

Garrett’s larger problem, even bigger than Brat’s, is his fundraising.

The Cook Report’s David Wasserman wrote Garrett is “apparently allergic to raising money.”

The most recent FEC reports show Garrett has $133,275 cash in the bank. Even with the understanding that this figure is almost a month old, and very likely has changed, it’s still astonishingly little for an incumbent running in a midterm election.

It’s even worse when considering that a big part of Garrett’s cash haul — almost $50,000 — came from the House Freedom Fund, the leadership PAC of potential House speaker candidate Rep. Jim Jordan.

Wasserman says Garrett’s thin bank account will make it difficult for him to “build any kind of narrative in the fall, no matter what happens at the Democratic convention.”

Like Brat, then, Garrett will need outside support.

He’d best hope it comes soon, because in an interview with Rick Sincere, Garrett said he wasn’t putting “a whole lot of thought” into his reelection effort.

Continue reading here.

Cover photo by Rick Sincere