CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- About 800 people rallied for Democratic congressional hopeful Leslie Cockburn Sunday night at an event headlined by actress Olivia Wilde, the candidate’s daughter.
Democrats said the size of the crowd signaled that Cockburn, a former “60 Minutes” producer and author, is gaining steam in Virginia’s red-leaning 5th Congressional District against Republican Denver Riggleman, a distillery owner and former Air Force intelligence officer.
“This is the type of energy we have never seen in this district for a Democrat,” said Jake Rubenstein, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Virginia.
The free, two-hour event in Charlottesville’s historic Jefferson Theater also featured Wilde’s partner and fellow celebrity, Jason Sudeikis, and a string of polished musical acts, including a folk trio that performed a campaign song written for Cockburn.
Cockburn and Riggleman are competing for the seat being vacated by Rep. Tom Garrett (R), who announced in the spring that he was struggling with alcoholism and would not seek re-election to focus on recovery and his family. The mostly rural district stretches from wealthy northern Virginia exurbs to the North Carolina line with a few liberal college towns in the mix.
Attendees at Cockburn’s rally were urged to register to vote ahead of Monday’s deadline and to get their friends to do so. They also were urged to volunteer for Cockburn’s campaign, which was often cast as an effort to push back against President Trump.
“Tweeting is not leading,” said Sudeikis, a comedian and actor who portrayed George W. Bush, Joe Biden and Mitt Romney over a long run on Saturday Night Live.
Sudeikis, who was born in Fairfax County but grew up in Kansas, said he was among those motivated to get involved as never before.
“I’ve never voted in mid-term in my life. I’m 43 years old,” he said. “Enough is enough. I’ve got to do everything I can to oppose and resist.”
Wilde, who appeared on the TV hospital drama “House” and in a string of movies, noted that the event took place not far from the spot where white supremacists held a deadly rally in August 2017.
“The nation is watching,” she said. “This represents what’s happening across this country, which is a demand for better, a demand for decency.”
As Cockburn’s rally kicked off, Riggleman held a series of events in rural Charlotte County, which suffered damage from the remnants of Hurricane Michael.
“Today, while Leslie Cockburn was calling in her Hollywood friends, Denver Riggleman was touring storm damage in Charlotte County, meeting with small business owners and listening to the concerns of local law enforcement,” Republican National Committee spokesman Garren Shipley said. “Leslie can focus on Hollywood. Denver is focused on the 5th District.”
In reply, Rubenstein said: “If the Republican Party wants to attack a daughter campaigning with her mother, then that really shows the morality of the party of Corey Stewart and Donald Trump.”
Stewart, a Trump-style provocateur, is the GOP candidate running against Sen. Tim Kaine (D).
Among the musical acts performing was the all-female folk trio After Jack, which hails from the district in Franklin County. The group has made several appearances with Cockburn and has written a tune for her -- a gesture reminiscent of the bluegrass campaign song written for now Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) as he courted rural voters in his successful bid for governor in 2001.
The song, called “We Believe,” has been made into a video showing Cockburn interacting with voters amid the district’s scenic vistas.
The chorus goes: “We believe, in our clear imagination, young and old, every color, every kind/There is dignity and harmony, when all are welcome and none are left behind.”
In remarks to the crowd, Cockburn talked about her opposition to some of Trump’s policies, including the separation of immigrant children from their parents on the nation’s border with Mexico.
“Every day, what comes from Washington is really debilitating and shocking -- separating children from parents,” she said. “We have to stand up for what is right. This is a major human rights violation. If we saw this happening anywhere else in the world we would condemn it strongly. We have to protect what it means to be an American.”
Riggleman has stressed the need for a strong border but has said family separations should be avoided.
Cockburn also highlighted her support for the Affordable Care Act and Medicare for All, a proposal from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to extend the government health insurance program for seniors to all Americans. Riggleman has said he opposed the ACA initially, but now thinks Congress should fix its flaws rather than “junk it.” He’s called Medicare for all “pie in the sky.”
On a more local issue, Cockburn stressed her opposition to two proposed natural gas pipelines that would cut across parts of the district. Riggleman also opposes the pipelines, one of which was originally slated to cross his property in Nelson County.