RICHMOND — The Republican Party of Virginia declared on Friday that a Democrat running for Congress “hates America,” an attack that left Democrats fuming and the Republican in the race mum.
On its official Facebook and Twitter accounts, the party posted a photo of Democrat Leslie Cockburn, a former “60 Minutes” producer running in Virginia’s 5th congressional district against Republican Denver Riggleman, a former Air Force intelligence officer and distillery owner. They are competing for a seat being vacated by Rep. Thomas Garrett (R), who announced in the spring he was an alcoholic and would not seek reelection.
“Leslie Cockburn hates veterans, hates ICE, hates Israel,” the image posted by the Republican Party reads. “Basically, Leslie Cockburn hates America.”
Cockburn’s campaign and the Democratic Party of Virginia blasted the GOP for making the attack — and Riggleman for not condemning it.
Asked about the “hates America” claim, Riggleman spokesman Jimmy Keady declined to comment.
“Leslie is stunned that Denver wouldn’t condemn the GOP’s baseless attack on her love of country,” Cockburn campaign manager Louise Bruce said in a written statement. “While Leslie and Denver may disagree on the issues . . . we can all share a common patriotism and devotion to our United States.”
But John Findlay, executive director of the state GOP, stood by the attack.
“She called ICE agents the Gestapo. She insulted our veterans. She blames American foreign policy for everything that’s wrong in the world. What more do we need — a tape of her saying she hates apple pie?”
Findlay was referring to several controversies that emerged as Cockburn and Riggleman have competed for the seat.
Cockburn and her husband, Andrew Cockburn, co-wrote a book years ago that was highly critical of the U.S.-Israeli alliance. In a radio interview this year, she referred to immigration agents who had separated children from their parents as “the new Gestapo.”
In a debate Monday, Cockburn suggested she has more credibility on Afghanistan than Riggleman because she was on the ground there as a journalist while he planned bombing raids over the country from the distant island of Diego Garcia. Riggleman served as chief of intelligence for the 34th Expeditionary Bomb Squad.
On Thursday, Andrew Cockburn weighed in with a tweet suggesting that Riggleman, who spent 11 years in the military, had only risked his life for his country by “Snorkeling off Diego Garcia.” Andrew Cockburn quickly deleted the tweet and by day’s end had shut down his Twitter account.
Democratic Party spokesman Jake Rubenstein responded to the GOP’s “hates America” attack by noting some of Riggleman’s controversial comments from the debate. Rubenstein also invoked President Trump and Corey Stewart, the bomb-throwing Republican challenger to Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.).
Asked during the debate if health care is a human right, Riggleman said no, although he also said government has a responsibility to provide a safety net. On the subject of sexual assault, he said, “I think a lot of it comes [down] to educating females in the fraternities and sororities.” He later issued statement clarifying that he thinks both men and women need to be educated on the subject.
“This week, Denver has said ‘health care is not a right’, that women are responsible for stopping the sexual assault epidemic, and now won’t condemn his state party for attacking Leslie’s patriotism,” Rubenstein said. “Virginians have had enough of the Donald Trumps, Corey Stewarts, and Denver Rigglemans that promote this type of garbage.”
Cockburn and Riggleman are competing in a largely rural district that stretches from Northern Virginia exurbs to the North Carolina line. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report says the race leans Republican.
Correction: A previous version of this story says the race is for Virginia’s 6th Congressional District. The race is for the 5th. This story has been updated.