Leslie Cockburn penned a book on US-Israel relations that was criticized as "Israel bashing for its own sake." She denies Republican accusations of anti-Semitism. Her opponent Denver Riggleman has claimed that people "want Bigfoot to be with them"
Virginia's 5th Congressional District
Cockburn (L) and Riggleman | Photos: official websites
What’s at stake?
Retiring Republican House of Representatives Rep. Garrett decided to drop his re-election bid amid scandal and alcoholism, and is currently facing a House Ethics committee inquiry. Rep. Garrett served in the House since 2016 and is a member of several committees, most relevant being the House Foreign Affairs committee and the sub-Committee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade.
But Rep. Garrett’s poor handling of his office and drinking habits have not been the only scandal in this race. Allegations of anti-Israel bias and anti-Semitism against Democratic candidate Leslie Cockburn also caught some attention to the race in Virginia's 5th District. In the early 1990s Cockburn, a distinguished journalist and producer for CBS’s “60 Minutes,” and mother of Hollywood actress Olivia Wilde, published the book “Dangerous Liaison: The Inside Story of the US-Israeli Covert Relationship.” A New York Times review stated that the book asserts that Israelis are a menace, and that they control US foreign policy. The overall message, the review stated, is that the book is "Israel bashing for its own sake."
Following Rep. Garrett’s announcement, the Virginia Republicans vowed to defeat Cockburn, calling her a “virulent anti-Semite” over past comments made about Israel. Cockburn has had to divert attention from promoting policy she wishes to advance, including single-payer health care and income equality in the Rappahannock region, to defending herself from these accusations.
Ad run by Virginia Republicans against Cockburn
Cockburn’s Republican opponent is Denver Riggleman, an Air Force veteran and owner of two small business in the region. Riggleman considers himself an independent conservative and is the top runner in the red district. He has so far remained quiet on the accusations towards Cockburn and in general focused his campaign on domestic issues. Furthermore, he has not commented on the controversial Virginian GOP ad campaign, which accuses Cockburn of "hating" veterans, ICE, Israel, and “overall, hating America.”
While Cockburn has had to fend off claims of anti-Semitism, Riggleman was required to explain his peculiar interest in "Bigfoot erotica"
While Cockburn has had to fend off claims of anti-Semitism, Riggleman was required to explain his peculiar interest in "Bigfoot erotica." The Republican candidate is the author of a book on Bigfoot, and has claimed that people "want Bigfoot to be with them". He also posted on his Instagram account several detailed renderings of the mythical beast, some specifically focusing on Bigfoot’s nether region. While Riggleman states that the pictures are nothing but a prank of his friends, his opponent has not wasted the opportunity to widely share his “Bigfoot erotica” collection.
What do the polls say?
CNN - Lean Republican
Real Clear Politics - Toss-up
FiveThirtyEight - Toss-up (5 in 9 Republicans win)
Ramifications for Israel
If Riggleman wins the race, he would most likely maintain the district's traditional support for Israel. His website states that he considers Israel as a strong ally to the US. He is supportive of the Trump administration’s policy relating to the Jewish state, including the embassy move and strong support of Israel. Riggleman also views Iran as a global threat and the largest sponsor of state-supported terrorism.
If Cockburn is elected, she might take the views expressed in her book to the House of Representatives, bringing more power to the growing progressive bloc of legislators who increasingly and openly criticize the US's support of Israel. However, officially, Cockburn’s campaign website states that she would respect the relationship between Israel and the US, as well as using creativity to encourage peace and a two-state solution.
Cockburn claims she remains committed to ensuring Israel's security, but also to providing funding to the Palestinian Authority. Furthermore, she states that the settlements are a barrier to peace, and promotes a settlement expansion freeze. Cockburn has been supported by JStreet, a progressive, pro-Israel organization that many criticize for its left-leaning agenda. Jewish leaders in Virginia, after having met with Cockburn in May, denied that she was anti-Semitic.
Cockburn’s election seems unlikely in a district that has not voted a Democrat into the House since 2008, yet her presence in the race has liven up an otherwise sleepy mountain region and put anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias in the spotlight.