Rumors flew on May 23 that the incumbent, Garrett, a Republican, would either resign or not seek reelection after a split with his chief of staff, Jimmy Keady. Garrett promised to make everything clear in a hastily organized news conference on May 24.
What people got was an impassioned Garrett invoking “his father, U.S. history and the Bible,” as he proceeded, in the Roanoke Times’s words, to “rip the political hide off Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen” for a bureaucratic bungling of an adoption case.
Eventually, Garrett said that while Congress was greatly frustrating, and the federal bureaucracy even worse, “there’s no way in hell I will not be back in 2019.”
The University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato called that event “one of the oddest” he’d ever seen. There had to be more to the story.
There was more — none of it good. The next day, Politico dropped a bomb on Garrett, airing allegations from former staffers of a “deeply dysfunctional office,” in which Garrett and his wife, Flanna, often demanded that staff run personal errands outside their typical congressional duties. The couple called on staff to pick up groceries, chauffeur Garrett’s daughters to and from his Virginia district, and fetch clothes that the congressman forgot at his Washington apartment. They were even expected to watch and clean up after Sophie, their Jack Russell-Pomeranian mix….”
It was an open secret in Washington that congressional staffers were little more than personal valets, drivers, and flunkies.
Harsh. Tawdry. But we can add to that deeply sad. Garrett’s office may have been toxic and his treatment of staffers unseemly, but the demons he wrestled with made an already bad situation worse.
He finally came to realize his health was more important than politics. Good for him.
Now the question becomes who Republicans will nominate to replace Garrett on the ballot.
The 5th District Republican Committee will decide that in the next few days.
The Post’s Laura Vozzella and Jenna Portnoy reported several possible contenders, including Sen. William M. Stanley Jr. (Franklin), Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (Fauquier) and Del. Robert B. Bell (Albemarle). Others who’ve declared interest include former gubernatorial candidate Denver Riggleman, activist Martha Boneta and Jim McKelvey.
More are likely to come forward.
Regardless, the new nominee will lack Garrett’s baggage and his anemic campaign apparatus — immediate improvements on the GOP’s chances to hold the seat.
Republicans will also deprive the campaign of Democratic nominee Leslie Cockburn of an easy campaign narrative. That puts the onus back on the first-time candidate to come up with a strategy that keeps her progressive base motivated while not completely alienating the rural and largely conservative portions of the district that have yet to show much, if any, interest in joining the resistance to President Trump.
I wrote in early May that a Garrett-Cockburn race would be close. With Garrett gone, Republicans have an opportunity to select a challenger who will run a tough, aggressive, well-funded campaign.
For a couple of days, the 5th District looked like a potential Democratic pickup. Now, the GOP gets an unexpected reset. It needs to take full advantage of the opportunity.
And Garret does, too. I hope he seizes the opportunity with both hands and comes out of it a stronger, healthier, happier man.