Tom Garrett’s decision to leave causes Republicans to scramble for replacement

May 30, 2018 GMT

Rep. Tom Garrett’s abrupt decision to leave Congress at the end of his term has set off a scramble for a GOP replacement and given Democrats another reason to believe they can flip a seat that has been reliably Republican.

The 5th District joins a list of GOP seats in danger in Virginia, where Democrats were already eyeing Reps. Barbara Comstock, Dave Brat and Scott Taylor.

Democrat Leslie Cockburn, who secured her party’s nomination to run against Mr. Garrett, now has a financial and organizational head start as Republicans look for a new candidate.

“I am anxious to see what the Republican do, but they are well behind at this point. With Mr. Garrett’s incumbency at least he had Name ID going for him,” said Suzanne Long, chair of the 5th Congressional District Democratic Party. “I continue to be very optimistic about flipping this seat.”

Republicans, though, said Mrs. Cockburn, a former journalist, is too liberal for the sprawling district, which runs from the Northern Virginia exurbs through Charlottesville to the North Carolina border.


John Whitbeck, chairman of the Virginia GOP, pointed to the 2017 election, when Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, rolled to a victory statewide, but lost the 5th district by 9 percentage points.

“The district is extremely Republican,” Mr. Whitbeck said.

Mr. Garrett, who was elected in 2016, was hit with charges of using his official staff as errand-runners for himself and his wife, including picking up after the family dog. In a video, he announced he was struggling with alcoholism and needed to focus on his family.

“The recent attacks on my family and myself are a series of half truths and whole lies,” Mr. Garrett said in the video. “They are driven more by Republicans than Democrats. These attacks aren’t true and I can prove that.”

He had been trailing Mrs. Cockburn in fundraising and had less cash in the bank, according to the latest campaign filings.

His decision to withdraw as a candidate came after the filing deadlines for candidates. Consequently, members of the 5th Congressional District Republican Committee are scheduled to shoulder the task of tapping their party’s nominee on June 10.

The lineup so far includes former gubernatorial candidate Denver Riggleman, state Delegate Michael J. Webert, activist Martha Boneta and Jim McKelvey, who lost the GOP nomination race to Mr. Garrett in 2016.

Michael Del Rosso, who also lost to Mr. Garrett two years ago, as well as state Sens. Bill Stanley and Bryce Reeves, could also jump into the race, according to politicos.

Rep. Tom Perriello was the last Democrat to hold the seat, having defeated six-term GOP incumbent Virgil Goode as part of the Obama wave in 2008.

Republican Robert Hurt won back the seat in 2010 and defended it in 2012 and 2014 before opting against another bid in 2016. Mr. Hurt has no interest in running, according to insiders.

Political handicappers favor Republicans to keep the seat this year.