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Contender for Va. governor vows to bring ‘blunt force trauma’ to rigged system


Distillery owner Denver Riggleman, center, is running for Virginia governor. (Norm Shafer for The Washington Post)

The owner of a craft distillery formally announced his candidacy for Virginia governor, promising to bring “blunt force trauma” to a rigged political system.

Denver Riggleman, owner of Silverback Distillery in Nelson County, registered his campaign with the state Board of Elections in December, but said Monday that he had made a final decision to run.

With a news release headlined “Denver Decides” — he joined a Republican field that already had three contenders.

“I am running to radically change business as usual in Virginia,” Riggleman said in a written statement. “The plain truth is that the system is wired for lobbyists and large donors and against small business and the people. I have explored every other avenue to fight for not just myself but for the people of Virginia. I believe someone needs to use blunt force trauma to break up the good ol’ boy system in Richmond that, as Ronald Reagan said, ‘takes from the needy to give to the greedy.’ ”

The political newcomer is positioning himself as a populist small-business man whose start-up distillery has been hurt by taxes and government regulation. He also has tangled with one of the state’s biggest businesses, Dominion Virginia Power, over a proposed pipeline that would cross his property.

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 a defense company. He and his wife, Christine Riggleman, opened Silverback Distillery in 2014 on 50 acres in Nelson County.

His competitors in the June 13 GOP primary are Republican strategist Ed Gillespie; Corey A. Stewart, chairman of Prince William’s board of county supervisors; and state Sen. Frank W. Wagner (R-Virginia Beach).

Two Democrats are competing for their party’s nomination: Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and former congressman Tom Perriello.

Riggleman’s announcement came as two of his GOP rivals rolled out plans for appearances around the state.

Gillespie, a former adviser to President George W. Bush who nearly unseated Sen. Mark R. Warner (D) in 2014, will kick off his campaign this weekend with a five-day tour. Traveling by plane Saturday, he is to visit Fairfax, Richmond, the Hampton Roads area, Roanoke and Bristol. From there, he will take a four-day trip through every region of the state.

Stewart, the ousted chairman of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in Virginia, is set to host “Take Back Virginia” parties this week and next week in Virginia Beach, Richmond and Prince William County. On Jan. 11 in Woodbridge, he is scheduled to present an AR-15 rifle to the winner of a raffle run by his campaign.

Riggleman is to host a campaign kickoff event at his distillery on Saturday.

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