Democrat Leslie Cockburn and Republican Denver Riggleman, vying to replace U.S. Rep. Tom Garrett, R-Buckingham in Virginia’s 5th District, squared off in their penultimate debate at Piedmont Virginia Community College on Monday.
Riggleman, a co-owner of the Nelson County-based Silverback Distillery, and Cockburn, a former investigative journalist, will compete in the Nov. 6 election to succeed Garrett. Garrett announced in May that he isn’t seeking a second term.
Garrett represents the expansive 5th District, which stretches from the North Carolina border to Northern Virginia, including Charlottesville and Albemarle County.
The district hasn’t supported a Democrat for the House since Tom Perriello was elected in 2008. When asked if Democrats had a “credibility issue” in rural areas, Cockburn disagreed and said the campaigns are “neck and neck.”
The two-hour debate focused on several topics including climate change, immigration reform and health care.
A student asked about tackling sexual assault on campus and Riggleman said “it starts by educating females.” He also advocated for better support systems for victims, increased enforcement on claims and education for men.
After the debate, Riggleman clarified his position, saying that he meant educating both females and males about sexual assault.
“I just got in front of my headlights a little bit,” he said.
Cockburn said health care is a “basic human right,” and advocated for single-payer health care.
Riggleman disagreed, saying that health care should be handled at the state level.
During a discussion on climate change, Cockburn attacked Riggleman’s pledge to join the House Freedom Caucus if he is elected.
Riggleman said he believes in climate change, and addressing it shouldn’t be politicized.
“It’s OK to believe in science,” he said. “What I don’t want to do is have science become a religion when we’re taking jobs away from people instead of in an incremental way.”
Riggleman is going against the Freedom Caucus, Cockburn said, so it’s hard to believe he’d follow his word.
Riggleman said that just because he’d join the Freedom Caucus, he’d remain independent and make his own decisions, which draw a laugh from several audience members.
“I can be in the Freedom Caucus and I can vote in the way that I want to,” he said. “It’s OK to laugh. … If you don’t think I’m going to do that, then don’t vote for me.”
When the candidates were asked which recent actions from their party they disagreed with, Riggleman said, “my goodness that’s a lot.” He followed up by focusing on the national debt ceiling. Cockburn used her time to attack Riggleman and didn’t directly answer the question.
A question on the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines, which will pass through Virginia, morphed into a discussion on the country’s borders.
Cockburn railed against President Donald Trump’s proposed wall on the southern U.S. border and using eminent domain to construct it.
Riggleman mentioned other ways to secure the border, such as remote surveillance.
Riggleman and Cockburn agreed that the federal government needs to help make college more affordable, but took slightly different approaches.
Cockburn told one student that decriminalizing marijuana is a bipartisan issue.
“That solves a lot of problems,” she said. “Decriminalization will take a lot of people out of jail.”
Riggleman said the country is headed toward legalization of marijuana and the states should have leeway to determine its status.
The candidates disagreed on whether convicted felons should have their right to vote reinstated. Cockburn said they should receive the franchise, while Riggleman opposed violent criminals getting the right to vote.
Riggleman said he doesn’t support net neutrality, but Cockburn did.
Many of Cockburn’s statements were in response to Riggleman’s policies, including on women’s health care and party politics. At times she ignored the moderator’s question to attack Riggleman’s response to a previous topic.
About 200 people attended the debate, a portion of which was televised on CBS19.
Monday was the fourth of five debates among the candidates and the second in the Charlottesville area in less than two weeks.
Riggleman commended both sides for “civility” in the campaign, though it has seen several personal attacks.
Those attacks left out of Monday’s debate, including Riggleman’s claims that Cockburn doesn’t live in Rappahannock County. Cockburn didn’t mention Riggleman’s expansion of Silverback Distillery into Pennsylvania. Nor were any accusations levied that Cockburn was anti-Semitic or Riggleman was a Bigfoot erotica aficionado.
Cockburn and Riggleman will square off in their final debate on Oct. 22 in Lynchburg.