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Dems choose nominee in Tuesday primary

South Boston News / June 22, 2020

Fifth District Democrats will choose their candidate in a primary Tuesday to face Republican nominee Bob Good in the November general election.

Four contenders are vying for the party’s nomination to take on Good, who snatched the GOP nomination away from incumbent Fifth District congressman Denver Riggleman at the party’s recent convention in Campbell County. The nomination of a relative unknown in a divisive intraparty contest has led some political handicappers to raise the odds of a Democratic takeover of the VA-5 congressional seat in the fall.

Unlike Republicans, Democrats will choose their nominee via a primary viote Tuesday.

There are four Democratic candidates running for the House of Representatives seat: R.D. Huffstetler Jr., Cameron Webb, Claire Russo and John Lesinski.

Republicans also are holding a primary on Tuesday — to select their candidate for U.S. Senate to face Democratic incumbent Mark Warner, who enters the November election as a prohibitive favorite to hold onto the seat. Republican candidates for the Senate nomination are Daniel Gade, Thomas Speciale and Alissa Baldwin.

Polls will be open in Halifax County on Tuesday from 6 a.m.-7 p.m. All 21 county precincts will be open.

Heading into Tuesday’s vote, the county Registrar’s Office has received 119 absentee ballots cast in-person. Another 218 voters have applied by mail for an absentee ballot, and 99 of those votes were returned to the registrar’s office as of Saturday.

Here are profiles of each of the candidates on the ballot for the Democratic and Republican primaries Tuesday:

Virginia Fifth Congressional District, Democratic primary:

» Roger Dean “R.D.” Huffstetler is making his second run for the Fifth District seat after seeking the party’s nomination in 2018, placing behind Leslie Cockburn, who went on to lose the mid-term general election to Riggleman. A Marine veteran and former chief of staff to Massachusetts congressman Seth Moulton, Huffstetler lives in Charlottesville with his wife, Emily, an OB-GYN, and young daughter, Alice Sue.

Huffstetler says healthcare, infrastructure, and clean energy are issues that he would focus on as a member of Congress. He supports Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine’s Medicare X bill to create a lot-cost public option on the Obamacare exchanges to compete with private health insurers, and he advocates for partnerships with telecommunications giants and formation of rural cooperatives to broaden access to high-speed broadband internet to rural areas of the Fifth District. He also says he will make opioid addiction a priority if elected to office — citing the personal experience of his father, who died of an oxycontin overdose at age 49.

Huffstetler attended the University of West Georgia before joining the Marines and serving stints in Iraq and Afghanistan. Through the GI Bill, he went on to attend Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. In Charlottesville, he has been an advisor to the Tom Tom Founders Festival, a local philanthropy.

» John Lesinski, making his first run for federal office, is a former member of the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors and school board. A Marine veteran, he ran unsuccessfully for the Virginia House of Delegates in 2009, losing to incumbent Del. Todd Gilbert in the strongly Republican district. He has carved out a career in commercial real estate, becoming a real estate broker in 1985 and starting his own company to develop industrial properties. His most recent work has been with Colliers International, facilitating deals involving industrial properties.

In making the case for his candidacy, Lesinski cites his business background and ability to work with Republicans, which he says he developed as former school board chair and the lone Democrat on the board of supervisors in largely Republican Rappahannock County. He has been active in veterans affairs as a member of the Virginia Veterans Services Foundation and board member of the Virginia Department of Veterans Services. Among his legislative priorities, he lists infrastructure improvements, especially rural broadband, and addressing climate change through the development of clean energy.

Lesinski and his wife, Heidi, have two children. They live in the Rappahannock County town of Washington.

» Claire Russo, the lone female candidate running in the primary, is, like Huffstetler and Lesinski, a Marine Corps veteran. She was an intelligence officer who served in Iraq and later worked as a civilian advisor to the Army, deploying to Afghanistan where she worked to root out insurgent attacks. At home, she has worked as a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs fellow studying the role of women in combat and conflicts.

As a candidate for Congress, she lists a full range of priorities to pursue if elected — tackling climate change and environmental issues, protecting women’s rights, including abortion access, gun safety legislation, and establishing a public option on the health insurance exchanges to compete with private insurers and lower the cost of health insurance. To boost the economy, she calls for “smart investments” to boost rural infrastructure, education, and clean energy-based economies.

In the military, Russo said she learned to fight for women’s rights after she was raped by an F-18 navigator and obtained a criminal conviction against her attacker in civilian court. She turned to the courts after running up against a “broken system” in the Marines, which refused to court-martial her assailant. Today, she and her husband, Josh, an Army Special Forces officer, have three children and live in the Albemarle County community of Earlyville. She has been endorsed by Emily’s List, which promotes women candidates for Congress.

» Cameron Webb is a medical doctor, lawyer and director of health policy and equity at the University of Virginia. He earned his M.D. at Wake Forest University and his law degree from Loyola University in Chicago. He was a White House Fellow in the Obama administration, serving on the health care policy team and Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, where he worked on education, workforce development and criminal justice reform.

If elected, Webb would become the only African American doctor in Congress, and not surprisingly, improving healthcare is one of his signature issues. He also talks on the campaign trail about expanding economic opportunities through education and workforce development, tackling inequities that he sees in well-to-do and struggling parts of the Fifth District. Both he and his wife, Leigh-Anne Webb, are practicing physicians. (She is an ER doctor who grew up in Appomattox County. The Webbs have two young children and live in Albemarle County).

Aside for health care and education, Webb also emphasizes the need to provide affordable housing, take decisive action to address climate change by slashing greenhouse gas emissions, and ensure equality for all people, regardless of race, ethnicity or gender. In recent days, Webb has picked up a number of endorsements from prominent Washington figures, including African American congressmen John Lewis of Georgia and James Clyburn of South Carolina and California Sen. Kamala Harris.

Republican primary, U.S. Senate

» Daniel Gade, the best-funded of the three Republican candidates waging an uphill battle to unseat Warner, is a longtime activist for veterans causes and the rights of the disabled, becoming an amputee while serving as a company commander with the Army in Iraq. In more than 20 years with the Army, he was awarded the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts.

A North Dakota native, he graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1997 and later earned a master’s degree and doctorate in public policy from the University of Georgia. He currently works as a professor at American University’s School of Public Affairs in Washington, D.C.

If elected to the Senate, Gade says he will work to protect free market principles, promote national defense, cut government spending and preserve individual liberties, including the right to bear arms. He has won the endorsements of many elected GOP officeholders in Virginia and has far outpaced his primary rivals in fund raising. He and his wife, Wendy, have three children and live in Mount Vernon.

» Thomas Speciale II, an Army reservist and intelligence community advisor, has sought to align his candidacy closely with President Trump and derives “Republicans in Name Only” who fail to follow through on their policy promises once in office. He vows to roll back government power if elected to the Senate and says he is a strong supporter of Trump’s push to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border and challenge China’s trade practices. He and his wife, Amy, live in Woodbridge with their two children.

» Alissa Baldwin is a civics teacher who lives in Lunenburg County, in the Town of Victoria. A graduate of Central High School, she went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in leadership studies and political science from the University of Richmond and her master’s degree in educational leadership from Longwood College in Farmville. She teaches in Nottoway County Schools.

With the lowest fundraising in the race, Baldwin says she is not a career politician and can beat Warner “because I am the ultimate political outsider, a grassroots Republican candidate of the people, an average American patriot, a strong servant leader, and an excellent listener and communicator,” as she stated in an interview with “I can beat him with his voting record and my knowledge of the Constitution as a civics teacher living her teaching.”

Voters who take part in the Tuesday primary will be required to provide an acceptable form of photo identification (photo ID) at the polls.

All voter precincts will have increased cleaning, physical markers to ensure social distance, and procedures in place to reduce contact with people and surfaces. Peak times for voting generally are before 9 a.m., around noon when people are on their lunch break, and after 5 p.m.

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