​Democrat declares candidacy against Rep. Tom Garrett

Roger Dean Huffstetler to vie for Fifth District congressional seat


Although the election is still slightly less than two years away, Huffstetler said he wanted to announce his candidacy early to begin introducing himself to the residents of the fifth district. 

Roger Dean Huffstetler, a Charlottesville resident, announced April 20 that he will be running as a Democrat against Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.) in the November 2018 Fifth Congressional District election.

Although the election is still slightly less than two years away, Huffstetler said he wanted to announce his candidacy early to begin introducing himself to the residents of the fifth district.

“It takes time to get to know folks and get your message out so we want to go around and start having those conversations right now so we can understand what people’s ideas are about how to get people into the changing economy,” Huffstetler said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily. “I think there’s a lot of folks in these areas, including myself, who are concerned about the future of this country, and I decided it was just time to step up and do my part to be a positive force for the folks in this area.”

Geoffrey Skelley, associate editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, said to some degree, candidates are declaring their candidacies earlier and earlier.

“It’s a tough seat for Democrats to win so declaring early, he’s probably going to clear the field or maybe have minor opposition, and he can maximize time to raise money,” Skelley said.

Because the seat has been held by Republicans for the past four terms, Huffstetler plans to run an “aggressive” campaign for the next 18 months.

“The fifth district is incredibly large and very rural,” Kevin Zeithaml, director of operations for Huffstetler’s campaign, said in a statement to The Cavalier Daily. “We are going to run an aggressive campaign in every locality and be on the ground speaking with individual voters for the next 18 months.”

Huffstetler said his life experiences and the knowledge he has gained from those experiences help to make him an ideal candidate for the job. He earned an undergraduate degree from the University of West Georgia and two master’s degrees from Harvard University. He is a veteran of the Marine Corps, has worked in Silicon Valley and, most recently, was a senior advisor for the Tom Tom Founders Day Festival.

The biggest issue Huffstetler plans to focus on is the state of the economy.

“I’m really focused on making sure that the economy is more accessible and inclusive as it has been for me in my lifetime,” Huffstetler said. “The issue right now with the economy is the economy is a national problem but it has mostly local solutions … As a person who’s focused on economic development and job creation in this campaign, I want to be a person who’s a convener-in-chief for the local, state and federal resources so that we can all be working together to export to the world the thing we do best.”

Although the University Democrats will not endorse candidates until after the primaries are complete, Virginia Chambers, a first-year College student and the University Democrats communications coordinator, said in an email statement the group is “pleased” to see individuals announcing their candidacies against Garrett.

“Clearly, people recognize he is not the best representative of the needs of the [Fifth] District,” Chambers said. “We are pleased that candidates including Huffstetler have announced their candidacies early. It signals that Rep. Garrett should not count on an easy victory in 2018 and drives home the reality that he must work to address constituent concerns or risk losing his seat.”

Although the College Republicans have not released an official statement, third-year College student and Chair Ali Hiestand said the group will continue to support Garrett and become involved in the election in order to respond to what they expect will be a much harder campaign by the Democrats.

“I can't speak to who will be the strongest [Democratic candidate] or who else would consider running but I think that Democrats are definitely going to be pushing really hard in the next two elections in response to the sweeping Republican victories across the country,” Hiestand said. “I think we can expect they're going to campaign a lot harder than they have in the past.”

Garrett’s office declined to comment on Huffstetler’s announcement.

Robert Bork contributed reporting to this article.

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