Garrett affirmed his plans to seek a second term Thursday after an online news report said he might drop out of the race. His seat has been targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and he has raised less money than his Democratic challenger, journalist and author Leslie Cockburn.
In a 20-minute speech laced with lessons from his father, U.S. history and the Bible, Garrett, a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, said he thought and prayed about the decision, and is committed to public service.
“I will tell you that there is no way in heck that I’m not going to be back here in 2019 as a member of the Congress representing the 5th District of Virginia because too darn much is at stake,” he told reporters in an announcement also broadcast on Facebook Live.
The drama was launched by a story in Politico, which, citing unnamed sources, said Garrett had abruptly parted ways with his chief of staff, Jimmy Keady and was thinking about dropping his reelection bid.
The 46-year-old lawmaker told reporters on Thursday that Keady was not fired, but quit his position and that he wished him well. Garrett’s legislative director, Hallie Pence, will serve as interim chief of staff, a spokesman said later.
Garrett is an Army veteran, former state senator and former commonwealth’s attorney with a libertarian streak.
But he has raised just $433,390 for his reelection bid, less than the $715,475 raised by Cockburn, according to federal campaign reports. He finished the last quarter with $133,275 cash on hand; Cockburn had $271,113.
The independent analysts at Cook Political Report changed Garrett’s race from “likely Republican” to “leans Republican” last month, on the size of Cockburn’s war chest. Liberal activists in Charlottesville and other Democratic enclaves within the district have taken up the mantra “One-Term Tom” as part of an effort to defeat him this fall.
“Look, I don’t like fundraising very much,” Garrett said Thursday. “We’ve turned a corner. We’re doing extraordinarily well. We’re going to be fine.”
Virginia’s 5th district runs from Fauquier County in the north, west to Charlottesville and the Shenandoah Valley and through Appomattox before unspooling into Southside Virginia along the North Carolina border.
Garrett cast votes on the House floor on Wednesday and told reporters he would not quit before his term was up. But he did not answer questions spurred by the Politico report about whether he would continue his reelection campaign. He skipped the Virginia delegation’s monthly lunch and was unavailable for comment Wednesday night.
In a message to supporters on a private Facebook page, Garrett wrote that “the DC press is wrong as often as they are right.” Then he tweeted early Thursday that he would make an announcement later in the day.
Referring to handwritten notes, Garrett faced reporters Thursday afternoon, withhis wife, Flanna, and a friend, state Sen. Bryce E. Reeves (R-Spotsylvania) watching nearby. As Garrett spoke, an aide displayed poster-sized photos of constituents the Republican has helped.
Garrett said frustration with the job and trouble he has encountered trying to help constituents caused him to question his role in Congress. But ultimately, he said, those struggles would not dissuade his quest for another term.
Asked how the saga might affect his reelection bid, he said: “God’s got a plan. Tom works hard.”