Labor Day has traditionally represented the start of the presidential and congressional election seasons, providing candidates a window of one year and two months during which they campaign, meet with voters, and raise money. With the federal holiday now in the rearview mirror, that season is underway in the 5th District of Virginia.
Three (potentially four) Democrats are seeking the nomination to challenge Republican Denver Riggleman for his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. So far, only one other Virginia district has at least four candidates running, making the 5th one of the most highly contested seats in the commonwealth. Here’s a look at the Dems who’ve either announced or are actively considering challenging incumbent Riggleman.
Lawyer, Fauquier County
Daugherty, the only woman in the race thus far, is making her first run for office. Raised in Stafford after moving around a lot with her military family, Daugherty attended Longwood University for her undergraduate degree, graduated from the Florida Coastal School of Law, and has spent her entire professional career practicing law in Virginia.
A family law attorney in private practice, Daugherty says she doesn’t have a “cushy” job. “I work [what feels like] 80 hours a week advocating for families…and on top of that I make time to be with my own family,” she says. “This is the type of lifestyle and these are the types of challenges that so many people in the 5th District face, and I understand it.”
Focused on serving working-class citizens, Daugherty believes many in the 5th haven’t felt economic success and she hopes to advocate in Congress for people who have to work countless hours a week.
“In traveling the 5th District and talking with voters, it’s clear to me that they are really one step away from financial ruin,” she says. “We need to make sure that we’re working for working-class families and working-class people, and not so much giving tax breaks to the ultra-wealthy and the elite.”
Roger Dean “RD” Huffstetler
Huffstetler is making his second bid for the 5th District seat after conceding the Democratic nomination to Leslie Cockburn in the 2018 election. The former owner of a startup tech company who grew up in a rural family, Huffstetler spent four years in the Marines before attending the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University with help from the G.I. Bill.
“My campaign is not going to take a dime of corporate PAC money; we don’t believe in that,” Huffstetler says. “And if you have a business in my district, I’ll meet with you, you just don’t have to pay me to do that. That’s literally the job of a congressman to try and meet with their constituents.”
Huffstetler says the three distinct issues most important to voters are: health care, education, and infrastructure.
“People just really want to know that they’re going to be able to have quality, affordable health care in their hometown…they want to know why their young people are going away—they’re not getting the skills they need at their local high school or community college to compete in the changing economy—[and] if you go to Buckingham County, 90 percent of the residents do not have broadband internet,” he says.
UVA physician, Charlottesville
Another first-timer like Daugherty, Webb graduated from UVA before obtaining a medical degree from Wake Forest and studying law at Loyola University. He was a White House fellow from 2016-17 and now works at UVA, where he’s an assistant professor of medicine and director of health policy and equity.
“It’s a critical time, it’s a critical year, there are critical issues, and there’s just a lot of need for good representation,” Webb says. “I think people remain very motivated to vote for folks who are going to help press for change that’s going to help improve lives.”
Webb’s biggest area of concern is health care, having talked to patients who say the current system hasn’t helped them obtain the coverage they need. He plans to advocate for combating climate change and racial prejudice, but says health care is the top issue on the minds of district voters he’s spoken with since launching his campaign.
“As a physician, I see every day in that role how critical health care is,” Webb says. “I hear every day from my patients how [the healthcare system] is not serving them well.”
Real estate broker, Rappahannock County
Lesinski hasn’t officially announced, and says he is “still exploring” the idea of putting together a campaign.
Currently an executive vice president at the Northern Virginia branch of the real estate services organization Colliers International, Lesinski’s resumé includes 26 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, chairman of the Rappahannock County Public Schools’ Board of Education, and a spot on the county’s Board of Supervisors.
“In addition to being an elected official and a businessman, I’m also a veteran,” Lesinski says. “I [did] four years of active duty in the reserves. I currently serve on the Board of Veterans Services and the Veteran Services Foundation Board, and I still remain active in trying to support our veterans in a lot of their needs, from mental health to homelessness to suicide prevention.”
Lesinski says he’d focus on expanding broadband internet access to the entire district, boosting employment, and supporting local military veterans.
“Being a businessman and having some experience working with companies that are creating jobs, I think those are the issues that if I was running, we’d give a lot of attention,” he says.
CORRECTION (9:15 a.m., September 5): A previous version of this article said Huffstetler is the owner of a startup tech company. He sold the company and no longer owns it.