The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A GOP chairman helped elect Rep. Bob Good. Now he’s running against him.

Dan Moy is challenging incumbent Rep. Bob Good in Virginia’s 5th District. (Parker Michels-Boyce/For The Washington Post)
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POWHATAN, VA. — Two years ago, Dan Moy was helping then-candidate Bob Good get elected to Congress, one of Moy’s duties as chairman of the Charlottesville GOP Committee.

Now, Moy was standing before a somewhat skeptical crowd of Republicans in a fluorescently lit meeting room at a bar in Powhatan, Va. — explaining why he was trying to defeat him.

“I’d be happy to entertain questions,” he said after finishing his spiel before Powhatan’s GOP Committee members that April evening.

“Anybody?” Moy asked after a few silent moments. “Anybody?”

A Good supporter spoke up.

“So we have a conservative Christian who’s our incumbent right now. Why do you feel you need to run against that as a Republican?” the man asked.

“If I thought our current congressman was doing a great job, I wouldn’t be doing this,” Moy said.

The chilly reception from some in the crowd — “We think you’re part of the establishment,” the Good supporter soon charged — underscored the challenge Moy faces in trying to unseat Good, among the most conservative lawmakers in Congress and a member of the House Freedom Caucus. While it isn’t unusual for local party chairs to run for office, they typically fall in line behind their party’s incumbent. Moy said he felt he couldn’t do that.

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A 27-year Air Force veteran, Moy has framed his campaign as a continuation of his oath, pledging to be an America First conservative in Congress focused on revitalizing the Southside Virginia economy with manufacturing jobs and vocational training. He has accused Good of grandstanding and political gamesmanship, claiming Good has been “missing in action” on issues such as the local economy and national security, particularly after Good voted against the annual defense budget in the name of battling liberals’ “woke” agenda.

Moy has found allies, drawing on relationships he has built in the two years he has led the Charlottesville GOP — and drawing, too, from some Republicans’ discontent about Good’s actions. But whether Moy can find enough of them to defeat Good at the 5th Congressional District GOP convention this month is questionable. Good, a self-described biblical conservative, is popular among the district’s strong religious-right faction, which carried him to victory against incumbent Denver Riggleman (R) two years ago, in a bitter convention that split loyalties.

About 2,000 delegates from across the district will converge May 21 at Hampden-Sydney College, near Farmville, to cast votes for the two candidates. The 5th District stretches from the North Carolina border to Charlottesville, a blue bubble largely out of sync with the rest of the district’s red strongholds. The winner of the convention will face Democratic nominee Josh Throneburg in November.

“In any other district or year, it would be unusual,” John Whitbeck, a former Virginia GOP chairman, said of the decision for a local GOP chair to challenge the incumbent. But “there are still so many raw feelings about what happened in 2020 with Denver Riggleman that we all kind of assumed there would be a challenge to Bob Good from somebody.”

Good defeated Riggleman after Riggleman fell into hot water with right-wing activists for officiating a same-sex wedding and supporting more immigrant-worker visas. Whitbeck and others said there’s no evidence Good has rankled those same activists — a key voting bloc at the GOP conventions.

“I haven’t heard any dissatisfaction much at all, which leads me to believe it would be hard” for Moy, said Vance Wilkins, the Amherst County GOP chairman, who supports Good.

Moy is the first to acknowledge the difficulty. Immediately after declaring his candidacy, he said, some fellow GOP chairmen stopped returning his calls and responding to his emails or texts.

“I’ve learned that challenging an incumbent is an uphill climb,” he said.

Through a spokesman, Good declined to comment.

Moy says he found himself wanting to return to public service after retiring from the Air Force as a colonel in 2016. Moy, who served in Afghanistan and worked at the Pentagon, used his GI bill to get a master’s in public administration at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, in the same class as Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.). Moy joined a veterans’ council for a bipartisan group called New Politics and, last year, became a regional leader for Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s campaign’s veterans’ coalition, seeking to engage veterans in politics. (Youngkin last week endorsed Good and Virginia’s three other Republican incumbents.)

But Moy says he didn’t decide to challenge Good until January, when it was clear no one else was going to.

“In my gut, I feel like somebody has to challenge Bob Good. He can’t be reelected,” Moy said, recalling a January conversation he had with his wife, who he said encouraged him to be that somebody.

Moy said that after supporting Good’s campaign in 2020, he gave the new congressman a chance. He supported a number of Good’s priorities, such as building a wall on the southern border and eliminating American reliance on foreign energy. But slowly, Moy said, his support for Good eroded.

Though he hasn’t garnered the viral infamy of members like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), Good has closely allied himself with them and others in the Freedom Caucus who often vote in the minority on broadly bipartisan legislation. Among the bills: one to award a Congressional Gold Medal to police officers who responded on Jan. 6, 2021, and another to expedite special immigrant visas to Afghans who aided in the war effort before the fall of Kabul.

Good also has perpetuated former president Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was “stolen” and objected to the election results. Moy says he would have voted to certify them — illustrating the lingering divides within the GOP at a time when Trump still demands loyalty to his false election claims.

“I would have done my constitutional duty, and that’s what you do, regardless of political head winds and what’s happening in chaos outside the building,” Moy said. “You do your job, and that’s where moral courage comes down to it.”

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But, on the campaign trail, there has been little talk of the 2020 election or Jan. 6. Making his case against Good, Moy has focused on recent actions the congressman has taken that Moy described as undermining national security.

He gave two examples to the Republican crowd in Powhatan.

“My opponent has voted repeatedly to not fund our military,” he said, referring to Good’s votes against the National Defense Authorization Act, the must-pass annual defense budget that funds cyberdefense, shipbuilding, veterans’ health services and servicemember pay raises.

Good said in a statement the day it passed — 363 to 70 — that he voted to oppose “radical left policies” in the bill, citing, among other objections, how it didn’t remove a vaccine mandate for servicemembers.

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Moy also noted that Good co-sponsored a bill just before Russia invaded Ukraine that sought to block military or security assistance to Ukraine until the southern border was secured. “This is no time for political games,” Moy said. “This is time for serious-mindedness when it comes to facing these dire threats.”

Some convention delegates have been persuaded. “In times like this, the military needs the most money,” said Reece Smith, an 18-year-old GOP convention delegate whose father served in the military. Smith said she disagreed with Good’s vote against the NDAA. “There are things that go over politics, and the military budget is one,” she said.

Jean Gannon, the former Powhatan GOP chair, donated to Good’s campaign in early January but said she switched to supporting Moy after Good’s rhetoric and name-calling started to turn her off. Powhatan is a new addition to the 5th after redistricting, and Gannon said she gave both candidates several opportunities to win her vote.

Good "spoke at our committee group, and I didn’t like where the narrative was going,” Gannon said. “I find it offensive when Republicans call other Republicans names and when they diss them. ... According to Bob Good, if you’re not in the Freedom Caucus, you’re either establishment or you’re a RINO” — meaning “Republican in Name Only.” “I think it’s a false narrative, in all honesty,” she said.

At the Powhatan GOP meeting in April, most of the delegates who were comfortable speaking said they had made up their minds to vote for Good. What Moy described as grandstanding, many of Good’s supporters saw as fighting for their values.

“He’s very conservative, and he carries through on what he says he’s going to do,” said one convention delegate, Diane Foster, secretary of the Powhatan GOP Committee. “He fights back.”

“He has a great record, a conservative record — he’s voted the way we want him to vote,” said another delegate, Mariana Marko.

At the meeting, as Moy answered questions, one woman shouted from the back to ask whether he would join the Freedom Caucus, something several there said they liked about Good.

“I will join any effort and group on Capitol Hill that will allow me to fight for our conservative values and our freedoms,” Moy said.

One Good supporter charged that Moy’s “record” meant he wouldn’t be invited to join the caucus.

“Well, I don’t know what record you’re referring to,” Moy said. “But my record having worn the flag on my shoulder for 27 years, fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, laying my life on the line —”

“So did Dan Crenshaw!” a woman yelled, seemingly not as a compliment for the Texas congressman, who has angered Trump’s supporters.

With that, Moy’s time was up. He took a seat among his supporters, a small group who stood out, with Dan Moy for Congress stickers on their shirts.