Saxman: Is Denver Riggleman Running for Governor or Not?
One of the unanswered questions nagging Election Nerd Disneyland a.k.a Virginia, is whether or not former Congressman Denver Riggleman is really going to run for governor this year.
Riggleman met last month with Evan McMullin and Miles Taylor on the roof of an apartment building overlooking the U.S. Capitol.
You’ll recall that McMullin ran for president in 2016 with the hopes of winning Utah and throwing the election to the House of Representatives. He ended up with over 21% in Utah, but less than 1% nationally and was widely seen as the “Never Trump” candidate. He endorsed Joe Biden in 2020.
Miles Taylor is less well known than McMullin; however, in 2018 as the deputy chief of staff to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, he wrote an op-ed which ran in the New York Times titled “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.” That was followed up by his book, “A Warning.” Both the op-ed and book were initially authored as Anonymous until Taylor revealed himself in October of 2020. He, too, endorsed Joe Biden.
During the meeting, according to a source familiar with the conversation, Riggleman acknowledged the difficulty in winning an independent bid against what are likely to be two very well funded gubernatorial candidates.
McMullin and Taylor said that Riggleman would be a great candidate who would quickly draw national money to make him viable. Given their networks, they have access to high dollar donors who might be willing to bet big in Virginia with no holds barred campaign finance laws.
Riggleman has said all along in our private conversations that $20 million would have to spent by mid-August in order to close the polls to show a chance of winning which could then yield enough money to win. That doesn’t include any Independent Expenditure (IE) campaigns which get spun up quickly.
Even then the odds of winning are remote.
There is zero shortage of animosity between Riggleman and what he calls the “anti-gay bigot wing” of the Republican Party of Virginia.
While he lost the 5th Congressional District nomination to now Congressman Bob Good, Riggleman had a good working relationship with President Trump who had endorsed him during the nomination. After the loss, Riggleman said Trump turned on him saying that he lost because he wasn’t pro-Trump enough.
That broke their relationship, especially since the primary (See What I Did There?) reason Riggleman lost the nomination was due to his support for gay marriage.
Anti-gay social conservatives used his officiating a marriage of two 2018 campaign volunteers as a pretext to oppose his re-election. The reality is that several local committee chairs had opposed his original nomination in 2017 against Cynthia Dunbar and they were going to run someone against him unless Riggleman voted perfectly with them – which he was never going to do.
(Is this a bad time to recall that Donald Trump was and is pro-gay marriage?)
Reminds me of Michael Jordan to a degree (profanity alert). Riggleman took that nomination fight personally. Very personally.
His antipathy notwithstanding, Riggleman started out in Virginia politics aiming high as he ran, albeit briefly, for governor in 2017 driven mainly by …
… regulatory hurdles and entrenched liquor lobby that he encountered as he started …
Silverback Distillery in Nelson County. Riggleman’s populist ire was also directed at Dominion Energy before the cool kids glommed onto that piñata bat. While not opposed to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, he was more focused on eminent domain issues which thrilled, initially, the libertarian wing of the GOP saying in part at January 2017 press conference:
“We are looking at an evolution right now of a revolution that’s going on around the country. And I think people have had it.”
Riggleman is clearly an independent minded man who is unafraid to buck his party and convention. (SWIDT?) He clearly gets a lot of press for knocking Trump and Republicans, but his most recent forays in the media have been focused on underlying problems in the country like QAnon, conspiracy theories, and disinformation campaigns.
Given his counterterrorism experience, Riggleman makes a strong case about these serious issues. The problem is that those issues are extremely difficult to pass to the next person in 21st century politics which is primarily performative and oriented to bumper sticker brands.
His first campaign against government regulations and entrenched interests definitely were good enough to win a crowded nomination field to succeed retiring Congressman Tom Garrett. Riggleman only defeated Dunbar 19-18 after several ballots winnowed the field down to just the two in a nomination decided by local committee chairs.
In order to win a statewide campaign, Riggleman has to do several things:
- Decide if he wants to run and what’s going to be his Why? He can’t just be a single term congressman who jumps in if the Virginia GOP nominates either Amanda Chase or Pete Snyder (who reportedly has hired some of Riggleman’s 5th CD opponents).
- Decide if he wants to win the election or win the debate a la Perot in 1992.
- Decide if he wants to use this as a platform for a Senate or even national bid in 2024. The national media loves him, BTW.
- Regardless, he needs to take aim at Democrats and Republican equally. Left, right, left, right … oh look! The vast middle!
- Oh, and raise $20 million by mid August.
Riggleman is quoted:
“Really what you’re fighting is, you’re fighting the extremes in the fringes. And if there’s not a courageous center that rises up at some point, I think this country’s in a lot of trouble.”
It’s hard to tell what Denver Riggleman will end up doing this spring and summer, but this story is just not going away.
And neither is Riggleman.