Nathan Gonzales, editor of Inside Elections, said he and his analysts have been hesitant to shift the rating too far in Webb’s favor given the clear “conservative DNA” among voters in the sprawling district, which stretches from Fauquier County to the Shenandoah Valley, through Appomattox and into Southside Virginia along the North Carolina border.
Explaining Thursday's change, he cited Good’s poor early fundraising compared to Webb’s, as well as struggles within the Republican Party to unite behind Good after his victory over incumbent Rep. Denver Riggleman (R) during a bitter GOP nominating convention.
“This district, under normal circumstances, is going to elect a Republican,” Gonzales said. “The question is whether these are normal circumstances. The fact that it’s an open seat helps [Webb], because defeating an incumbent is usually more difficult. Facing an underfunded challenger helps. Having a divided opposition party helps.”
The Cook Political Report shifted the race to a toss-up Sept. 18, saying Webb might just be the Democratic “unicorn” capable of pulling off a victory in a district that President Trump won in 2016 by 11 points.
Webb, who would become the first Black doctor in Congress if elected, is also a lawyer and health policy professor at the University of Virginia. He is campaigning in support of a public health insurance option and criminal justice reform. He trounced an otherwise impressive slate of Democratic candidates during the primary, winning two-thirds of the vote.
But political analysts still acknowledge serious hurdles for Webb. In the past, the district has proven open to far-right candidates like Good, a self-described “biblical conservative” who pledges unwavering support for Trump’s agenda. Corey Stewart, the Republican Senate candidate who openly supported Confederate imagery during his campaign, won the 5th District by two percentage points in 2018.
Still, J. Miles Coleman, associate editor at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, said it would not be wise for Good to bank on simply riding on the coattails of a likely Trump victory in the district. The last time a Democrat, Tom Perriello, won the seat in 2008, then GOP-presidential nominee John McCain carried the district as well.
“The sense I get is Bob Good is kind of doing the bare minimum,” Coleman said. “To me, it seems like he’s relying on the fact that this is a Trump seat.”
Good, a former board supervisor in Campbell County, seems to be speaking to the Trump base on “red-meat” issues such as crime, Coleman said, while repeatedly trying to paint his opponent as a “radical.” He often accuses Webb of supporting defunding the police, which is also the underpinning of a new attack ad by the Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC devoted to electing Republicans in the House.
Webb, whose father worked for the Drug Enforcement Administration, has shot back by flaunting the endorsement of a former Campbell County sheriff and others, and by saying Good voted for a budget that included a decrease in police funding while he was a board supervisor.
Coleman said Webb appears to be trying to attract crossover votes from moderates or independents, with ads featuring farmers in rural south-central Virginia and law enforcement veterans.
As of June 30 campaign finance filings, Webb had raised more than five times as much as Good; updated reports are due by mid-month. Gonzales said he expects outside groups to try to bridge that gap with ad buys and messaging.