Another Republican has filed the paperwork to run for governor of Virginia, making the race a four-way contest for the party nomination.
Denver Riggleman, a former Air Force intelligence officer and owner of a craft distillery outside Charlottesville, created a candidate committee last week to raise money for his gubernatorial campaign.
Despite registering his campaign with the state Board of Elections, Riggleman said he will not make a final decision about whether to seek the office until next week. He does not have a campaign website but has hired a campaign manager and general consultant.
The first-time candidate is positioning himself as an outsider businessman unhappy with taxes and government regulation that he says have stifled the two-year-old spirits business he runs with his wife.
Riggleman said he takes inspiration from the unorthodox candidacies of Dave Brat (R-Va.), who ousted then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in 2014, and Donald Trump, because they ran without prior political experience and galvanized supporters outside typical political circles.
They “are just the beginning of the revolution,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “I think you’re going to see more people who say: ‘I think I can do a better job. Not only I think I can — I know I can.’ ”
The other candidates for the GOP nomination are political strategist Ed Gillespie; Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors; and state Sen. Frank Wagner (R-Virginia Beach). Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam is the only Democrat running.
Riggleman’s entry into the race could draw voters away from Stewart, who chaired Trump’s Virginia campaign for 10 months and has relied on his connection to the now-president-elect.
Stewart said it’s possible that Gillespie could benefit from another unconventional conservative in the mix. “I’ve learned long ago in campaigning that you have to be focused on your own game, your own work,” he said Tuesday. “If you get caught up in what everybody else is doing that’s when you get into trouble.”
Gillespie has more money and endorsements than the others, which could give him an advantage in the 2017 primary.
“By all accounts, Denver Riggleman is a good man who is concerned about the size and scope of government just like I am,” Gillespie said in a statement. “I appreciate his military service, and if he decides he wants to serve our Commonwealth as governor, I will respect that as well and welcome him to the race. Competition is good for our party.”
Riggleman said he would combat a lack of transparency in the General Assembly by forcing lawmakers to list their top 10 donors on their websites and record their votes in subcommittee hearings, where bills often disappear with little or no discussion.
He also wants to simplify the tax code, do away with a number of business taxes and reduce the economic development incentives that Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) has used to lure businesses to the state — a practice Riggleman called “picking winners and losers.”
Riggleman said he will not oppose same-sex marriage now that it is legal in all states and says states should be able to legalize marijuana and other drugs without federal interference.
He opposes McAuliffe’s order to restore voting rights to felons, a move reversed by the courts, and said he would reinstate hospital-style building codes on abortion clinics.
“I’ve never wanted to be governor, and maybe that’s why I’m right for the job,” he said. “I have no political aspirations after I run as governor.”
Riggleman was born in Manassas and graduated from Stonewall Jackson High School and the University of Virginia, where he studied foreign affairs. He spent 11 years in the Air Force, traveling the world as an intelligence officer, before working as a National Security Agency contractor and then starting his own defense company.
He and his wife, Christine Riggleman, opened Silverback Distillery in 2014 on 50 acres in Nelson County.