Former Virginia Republican congressman Denver Riggleman is going to bat for Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D) in her competitive reelection bid in Virginia’s 7th District, appearing in a new TV ad urging voters to back the congresswoman for her willingness to work across the aisle.
“This is not a typical political ad,” Riggleman says in the opening frame. “I’m a Republican congressman saying nice things about a Democrat.”
Indeed, it’s pretty unusual for a former Republican congressman to campaign for a sitting Democrat, a la Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) supporting Democrats in Arizona over the election-denying Republican candidates for governor and secretary of state. But Riggleman is pretty unusual in that he was part of the vocal minority of Republicans to break ties with the GOP over former president Donald Trump’s stolen-election lies, telling The Washington Post in interviews last year he no longer identified as a Republican. Riggleman had also railed against what he called GOP purity tests he said he didn’t fit into.
“In Congress, the parties sit apart and don’t work together — except Abigail Spanberger,” Riggleman says in the ad, pointing to a bipartisan index ranking Spanberger as the fifth-most bipartisan member of Congress. “She’s trying to change Congress and make it work.”
The ad — more than a half-million dollar buy in the Washington and Charlottesville markets, according to Spanberger’s campaign — appears geared toward the district’s independent or swing voters as Spanberger hits the final leg of the race against Prince William Board of County Supervisors member Yesli Vega (R). The race is by far the most expensive campaign in Virginia, so far totaling over $18 million. The district, anchored in populous eastern Prince William, is one President Biden and Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) each won, making it one of the most contested races in Virginia this year. The ad will run for most of October, the campaign said.
In an interview, Riggleman said he decided to cut the ad for Spanberger because he could not support “facts-challenged individuals” running for office.
He pointed to comments Vega made during the Republican primary this spring casting doubt on the 2020 election, and her acceptance of an endorsement from Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, a GOP activist and the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas who remains under scrutiny by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol for her efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Riggleman, who has a background in tracking disinformation, worked as an adviser to the Jan. 6 committee — though he recently rankled committee members after publishing a book about his work before the committee’s investigation ended and that the committee did not authorize.
“If you’re afraid to come out and say President Biden was elected legally and fairly, there’s no way I can support that kind of ridiculousness,” he said.
Riggleman was referring to comments Vega made at an April 20 candidate forum in which she said “there’s evidence that continues to come out that indicates that the election of 2020 was interfered with,” according to a recording obtained by VPM. She said she would not say the election was “stolen,” adding she did not want to speculate and needed more evidence. Still, Riggleman argued that saying the election was “interfered with” is “coded language for everybody on the stop-the-steal bus.”
A spokesman for Vega did not respond to a request for comment for this article. But during a recent interview with The Post, when asked if she acknowledged President Biden was legitimately elected, Vega said, “He is the president of the United States.” She would not give a yes or no answer when pressed, taking issue with the question as something she said she believed did not matter to voters in her district, noting Jan. 6 was a long time ago. She later reiterated Biden is president and added that “the American people elected him.”
“I am not Donald Trump, I don’t know what goes on in his mind, and I can’t speak to what he stated,” she said when asked about Trump’s false claims of voter fraud. “You can call him and ask him about those comments, but I’m not gonna go there, because he has nothing to do with this race, and I have yet to talk to voters who are concerned about that.”
Despite caucusing with the most conservative members of Congress in the House Freedom Caucus, the libertarian-leaning Riggleman frequently worked across the aisle with Spanberger on issues such as expanding rural broadband. The two enjoyed a friendly rapport, bonding over a shared background in counterterrorism.
Riggleman was defeated by Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) in a contentious GOP nominating convention in 2020 after upsetting right-wing religious conservative activists for officiating a same-sex wedding. He then emerged as a leading Trump critic within the GOP, angering party officials after he blasted the former president for flirting with QAnon conspiracy theories weeks before the 2020 election, and then sounding alarm bells about the false claims of election fraud Trump and his GOP colleagues were spreading.
“I think tribal politics is the worst thing we can have,” he said Friday. “I think that’s another reason for Abby [Spanberger], is that she’s bipartisan — she certainly wants to help the people in her district regardless of if they’re Republican or Democrat, and that’s a special trait to have.”
Riggleman’s successor, Good, who also falsely claimed the election was stolen, has endorsed Vega. In June he said she would “put America first” and called her a “true fighter whom I want serving beside me in Congress, fighting against the establishment and for our true conservative principles.” Multiple members of the House Freedom Caucus endorsed Vega, and its political arm says she will join the caucus if elected.
Spanberger said in a statement that she was “proud to be ranked as the most bipartisan Member of Congress from Virginia — because the people I represent expect me to get results, not grandstand.”
“This commitment to progress stands in direct contrast to my opponent — who has promised to join the hyper-partisan Freedom Caucus, pledged to shut down the federal government, and defended the insurrectionists who attacked the U.S. Capitol and law enforcement officers on January 6, 2021,” Spanberger said.
Vega had expressed openness to shutting down the government in an interview with conservative radio host John Fredericks, but when questioned by The Post about the circumstances in which she would consider a shutdown, she said she would not speculate.