Health care, gun control and immigration – and yes, Bigfoot  – were in the mix during a spirited forum featuring Republican Denver Riggleman and Democrat Leslie Cockburn Wednesday in Rappahannock County.

The two are in the final stretch of their campaigns for the congressional seat representing Virginia’s 5th District, which includes most of Fauquier County. They are vying to succeed Rep. Tom Garrett, a Republican who withdrew from seeking a second term, citing a problem with alcoholism. The election is Nov. 6.

Health care  

During the forum, Cockburn called for restoration of the Affordable Care Act. “Trump pulled the legs out of the subsidies” that helped make insurance through the ACA more affordable, she said. She favors a “Medicare for all” option as well as negotiating with pharmaceutical companies to lower the cost of medications.

Cockburn said foreign nations provide universal health insurance at far less cost and that the U.S. should learn from their example.

Riggleman questioned whether Americans want “a single-pay system like the Veterans Administration,” which has been beset by complaints about the medical care provided to veterans.

Riggleman said he supports an expansion of Health Savings Accounts and raising the amount people can deposit in them.

Medicare for all will cost trillions of dollars, Riggleman asserted. He called for an audit of all government spending and then “roll[ing] in” presumed savings into programs serving public need.


Cockburn called for the closing of the “gun show loophole” that allows gun sales without a waiting period for a background check, to ensure that domestic violence perpetrators can’t purchase guns and the elimination of the sale of large-capacity ammunition magazines, which she said put police at risk.

Riggleman noted that felons – such as the domestic violence perpetrators Cockburn referred to – are already barred from buying firearms.


Riggleman said he supports the bill blocked by the Senate early this year that would have banned abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. The bill had exceptions for victims of rape or incest and to protect the mother’s health.

Cockburn said she opposed cutting off funding to Planned Parenthood, which she noted is a source of care for 24 million women beyond reproductive services.


Riggleman maintained that farmers want strong borders. He said they want to make it easier to hire immigrant labor through a program called H2C that would allow foreigners to stay in the U.S. year-round with a 36-month renewable visa. The worker would have to leave the country for a total of 45 days during that time. H2C was in a comprehensive immigration reform bill that failed in the House of Representatives in June.

Cockburn called for comprehensive immigration reform rather than a longer border wall as President Trump wants

“ICE [U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement] is really behaving in a way that we need reform,” she added.


Cockburn was on home ground. She lives in Castleton in Rappahannock County, though Riggleman noted she also has a residence in Washington, D.C., and he referred to two others He mused that much of the mileage she’s put on her car was because of the D.C.-Rappahannock commute rather than traveling the district campaigning, as she said was the case. 

Cockburn replied that the D.C. home is used by her husband, Andrew Cockburn, who is Washington editor of Harper’s Magazine. 

That exchange came after Cockburn called out Riggleman for choosing Pennsylvania as the site for an expansion of his Nelson County distillery.

“The reason that Virginia is not a good place for sales is because they have a 54-percent tax per bottle on everything I sell from my distillery. In Pennsylvania, it’s 3 to 6 percent,” Riggleman said. Production remains in Virginia.

Riggleman said he’s been able to hire more workers thanks to the Trump tax cuts. Gross sales have increased 23 percent since Trump became president, he added.


Riggleman made light of a Cockburn tweet about Riggleman's July Instagram post that showed an illustration of the mythical creature Bigfoot with a black bar over its genitals. Riggleman co-wrote one book about Bigfoot and just wrote a second titled, “Mating Habits of Big Foot and Why Women Want Him.”

Riggleman said the illustration was a joke among military buddies and insisted once again that he isn’t into “Bigfoot erotica.” He did wear Bigfoot-illustrated socks, which he revealed by pulling up his pant legs.

The crowd

Both candidates drew supporters who filled the 225-seat Little Washington Theater. Others couldn’t get in. 

A line formed along Gay Street in anticipation of the doors opening at 6:30 p.m. The two-hour forum was moderated by Rappahannock resident and former Boston Globe reporter Thomas Oliphant, who posed questions then took questions from the audience during the last half hour.

The forum was sponsored by the Rappahannock News and the Businesses of Rappahannock.

Both campaigns quickly claimed victory after the forum ended.

Joe Chelak, Riggleman’s campaign manager, said in a Facebook post: “The distinction here is clear. Denver wants to work in a bipartisan fashion to solve our healthcare system and allow people to choose their healthcare provider. Meanwhile, Leslie wants the government to control it with Medicare for all. Denver wants to solve our immigration crisis by securing the border and encouraging legal immigration. Leslie wants immigration to remain a DNC talking point. Denver wants to lower taxes on hardworking Virginians. And Leslie wants to raise them to pay for a government takeover of healthcare.”

Louise Bruce, Cockburn’s campaign manager, saw it differently. “Leslie was the clear winner of tonight’s debate. Leslie outlined her vision for the 5th district: a substantial platform centered around bettering the lives of Virginians through affordable healthcare, better education and leveling the economic playing field – without taking a single penny from special interests and corporate PACs.”

Reach James Ivancic at

(9) comments


Democrats, including Leslie Cockburn, want " comprehensive immigration reform" She needs to tell us exactly what that looks like. Spell it out. Everything I read or hear from Democrats equates to open borders. In fact there is a picture of Leslie Cockburn standing by a protester in agreement with #AbolishICE and #OpenBorders. Does this mean no controls and that anyone who wants to get in to our country comes in... an open door?


The most dangerous PAC like organization Leslie Cockburn is endorsed by is Sierra Club. This organization that has been shown to resort to violence in the past is notoriously against coal production. Leslie Cockburn is also against coal and supports a pledge of #NOFossilFuels. She does have a slight problem here, however, as she also takes Cheron dividends asshown in her candidate disclosure. There's another problem for her as Virginia receives 47% of our electricity from cheap coal. How will she propose the transition from coal to her choice of energy be paid for? Who will pay? What will happen to our businesses that are just getting going again due to this strong economy? Of great importance to Fauquier County is what will this look like? What will this do to our views, our open visas and hill tops? You see Sierra Club vehemently opposes the use of options such a nuclear or hydro-electric for large scale energy production. What does that leave us? It leaves us GIANT wind turbines and fields of solar panels. Does Fauquier County really want these? Do we really want California Sierra Club regulations and dictates coming here to lay claim to our county? Here's what a Canada town is going through.


sorry for the typo in this. Should be Chevron dividend as shown in her candidate disclosure.


I hate to burst your bubble, but Leslie Cockburn said that she will refuse to accept money from CORPORATE PACs, not public interest groups. And the groups you say have contributed to her campaign, if it is true (and I have no way of knowing) are hardly the radical groups you make them out to be. The Sierra Club resorting to violence? Really? Emily's List pursuing a "radical" agenda? Are you kidding? Moms protesting gun violence dangerous? Come on. You may not agree with their positions on some issues, but you shouldn't vilify them for the positions they take. And I for one would be proud if these organizations supported me for office.


Another organization that endorses Leslie Cockburn is Moms For Gunsense. This organization is part of the Everytown Network that is funded by Michael Bloomberg who has a definite agenda against our second amendment rights. This organization is found partnering with MoveOn which is an organization funded by George Soros. The name sounds good and they say they are just for safety, but the reality is that money raised goes back into the Everytown network to chip slowly away at Constiutional rights. It is my opinion that people with good intentions are misled by this organization and used to promote their agenda. How many who signed up under Moms For Gunsense know they are really signing up for a Bloomberg financed organization? Here's an article showing the Bloomberg connection and the larger agenda. Does Leslie Cockburn take money and support (same thing) from this organization?


Why shouldn't George Soros and Michael Bloomberg support the causes they believe in? Don't you support the causes you believe in? You want to vilify an entire organization because of some of their donors? If you want to criticize their positions on issue, OK, that is your right as an American. But don't protest the right of other Americans to disagree with you.


Another PAC that funds candidates in large amounts is JStreetPAC. Notice the use of PAC in the name of this organization. Although Leslie Cockburn denies PAC funding, she is funded and endorsed by this organization. They misleadingly say they are Pro-Israel and Leslie has used their endorsement to counter accusations she is anti-semitic after penning a book the that has been used as source material on white supremacist websites. JStreetPAC is not pro-Israel even though they say they are. An examination of their actions show them lobbying for the Obama Iran Deal where we gave pallets of cash to a regime that is a state sponsor of known terrorism. They also support Palestinian interests against Israel. Fauquier county needs to be aware of the dance and semantics being used by the Cockburn campaign. By Leslie Cockburn accepting JStreetPAC money, she appears to have agreed to push the special interests of the Iran/Palestinian Lobby. Here is an article describing JStreetPAC and what they did for Senator Feingold and how they were in support of Obama's Iran Deal.


JPac is a Jewish organization that was formed as an alternative to AIPAC, to give a voice to many Jews in the United States who do not necessarily agree with some of the positions taken by AIPAC on subjects that concern the American Jewish community. Its position on the Iran deal and other subjects reflects the opinion of its members concerning the best way forward for both the US and Israel. It is by no means anti-Israel and you do a disservice to Jewish citizens both in this country and in Israel by demeaning it.


I think this is a good rundown of the debate. Thank you for straight reporting. I have to take exception with Leslie Cockburn's claim that she does not take big PAC money,however. In reality, she is endorsed by several PACs or organizations acting as PACs that our county voters need to know about. I'll share some here. Her first endorser and funder is Emily's List, an organization that only funds candidates who will support their radical stance on abortion which is that abortion should be readily available throughout the whole term of pregnancy at tax payer expense. I understand there is disagreement over choice vs life and this crosses all political parties, but I oncannot believe most women I know would promote late term partial birth abortion except in the case of life of the mother or another catastrophic reason. Emily's List is so radical they penalized Dem Senator Marie Landrieu for voting in favor of the ban to use the barbaric late term (at 7-9mos of pregnancy) partial birth abortion procedure for general birth control. They withdrew Marie Landrieu's funding and she lost her next election. Knowing Leslie Cockburn gladly accepts their PAC money, what does that tell you about this particular special interest agenda she will represent?

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