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College Republicans increase canvassing efforts for Denver Riggleman ahead of election

Preliminary estimates show that volunteers with the organization have broken records for voter contact this campaign season

<p>Robert Andrews, a fourth-year College student and chair of the College Republicans, knocks doors Saturday in the Greenbrier neighborhood of Charlottesville.&nbsp;</p>

Robert Andrews, a fourth-year College student and chair of the College Republicans, knocks doors Saturday in the Greenbrier neighborhood of Charlottesville. 

Members of the College Republicans at the University have knocked on several thousand doors since the beginning of the midterm campaign season this past August, and some volunteers have made as many as 15,000 phone calls to voters in the Fifth Congressional District in an effort to elect Republican Denver Riggleman to Congress. 

Volunteers with the College Republicans have made nearly 80,000 voter contacts during this year’s campaign season through phone calls and canvassing efforts combined. 

Riggleman is competing with Democrat Leslie Cockburn for the Fifth District seat in Virginia. The district — which includes localities from Fauquier County to the North Carolina border, including Charlottesville — will elect either Cockburn or Riggleman Tuesday after Republican Tom Garrett announced in May that he would not seek re-election. 

Current analysis suggests the Fifth District race is a toss-up between Riggleman and Cockburn, despite Garrett having won the district with 58 percent of the vote against Democrat Jane Dittmar in 2016. 

Volunteers from the organization broke their record Saturday for the number of doors they have knocked in a single day of campaigning, according to Adam Kimelman, a fourth-year College student and vice chair of campaigns for the organization. 

Chris Tomlin, a second-year College Student and phone bank coordinator for the College Republicans’ campaign efforts this year, has made more than 10,000 phone calls to residents of the Fifth District this campaign season. 

”For the most part, it’s mainly people who have already made up their minds,” Tomlin said. “But a lot of times you have the chance and the opportunity to tell people why they should vote for Denver, and a lot of people are responsive to that.” 

Tomlin and other volunteers also use a “Walk Book” app to identify target areas in the Charlottesville area and surrounding counties where certain residents have voted in Republican primary elections. Andrews said the app sources data from the Republican Party of Virginia to show specific addresses where residents have voted or have tended to vote Republican in the past. It also allows users to update the database to reflect possible changes in residency or vote choice to enable other canvassers to determine where they should prioritize their resources. 

Chloe Sparwath, a first-year College student and a member of the College Republicans who has been heavily involved in voter contact this campaign season, said her and others’ involvement with the Riggleman campaign goes far beyond professional political development. 

“I love it because people aren’t doing this just for a resume builder, everybody who's so involved genuinely believes in this man [Riggleman] so much,” Sparwath said. “Everybody's here because they want him to get elected just because they think he’s going to be the best leader.”

Ahead of Tuesday’s election, many members of the organization were up early Saturday morning to canvas key neighborhoods in hopes of mobilizing Republican voters. Some members have been knocking doors every weekend since August, but many have been hitting the pavement nearly every day for the past two weeks. 

At this stage of the campaign season, Robert Andrews, a fourth-year College student and College Republicans chairman, said much of the organization’s outreach efforts are focused on rallying Republican voters to head out to the polls Tuesday. Andrews said this strategy requires volunteers to venture outside of the overwhelmingly Democratic precincts of Charlottesville and into more rural portions of the Fifth District. 

In the 2017 Virginia gubernatorial election, the vast majority of precincts in the City of Charlottesville and surrounding Albemarle County overwhelmingly supported Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, with some precincts in the City casting nearly 90 percent of their vote share for the Democrat. 

Volunteers knocked on doors as far as Bedford County Saturday but also canvassed in Crozet in western Albemarle County, nearby Greene County to the north and certain neighborhoods around the northern portion of Charlottesville, along the City’s boundary with Albemarle County. 

However, Andrews said volunteers have traversed throughout the Fifth District during this campaign season, making voter contacts in areas as far as Danville near the North Carolina border as well as Franklin and Rappahannock counties. 

Kimelan added that the Hoos for Denver Riggleman organization — a separate but affiliated sister organization of the College Republicans with the sole purpose of supporting efforts to elect Riggleman — has been instrumental in allowing the College Republicans to dramatically increase voter contact efforts this year. 

As volunteers knocked doors Saturday, most residents in Greene County expressed their support for Riggleman and the Republican ticket more broadly. Once volunteers made their way to Charlottesville’s Greenbrier neighborhood later in the day, many residents also identified themselves as Republicans but often claimed they were a vastly underrepresented population in the City. 

However, Devan Coombes — a first-year College student, an intern for the Riggleman campaign and the executive campaign director for Hoos for Denver — said voters in the Fifth District should prioritize policies over parties when making a vote choice. 

“I think that is a huge problem honestly for both parties,” Coombes said. “You shouldn't look at the partisan line, you shouldn't look at the politician, you should look at the policy. Because at the end of the day, how that person votes is what’s going to matter in the long run.” 

Andrews said Riggleman’s willingness to challenge mainstream politicians from across the aisle is one of Riggleman's defining characteristics as a small business owner turned politician. Riggleman has said his entry into politics can be attributed to his previous battles with government bureaucracy and liquor interest groups while he was establishing Silverback distillery in 2014. 

“Nobody will influence him, he’ll stick to his guns, stick to his principles and he stood up to lobbyists …  so he'll always be an independent voice for his constituents,” Andrews said. 

The College Republicans at the University have prioritized campaigning for Riggleman this election season, with the exception of volunteer efforts for a variety of other Republican candidates for Congress in Virginia.

Earlier this year, the organization issued a non-endorsement statement regarding Corey Stewart, the controversial Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Virginia and the current Chair of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors. In 2016, the organization also rescinded a vote to endorse support President Donald Trump just weeks before he was elected. 

Sparwath said support for Denver Riggleman does not equate with approval of President Trump, as Riggleman has expressed his willingness to oppose the Republican Party if necessary.  Andrews added that Riggleman has the unique ability to appeal to both the Trump-Republican base of the district as well as younger conservatives as well. 

“He [Riggleman] has nothing to do with Donald Trump, they both are running in the same political party,” Sparwath said. “He’s representing us as a district first. If it’s not good for us, or if he genuinely believes that it’s not good for the country, then he needs to vote for with what he believes in, even if that means with Democrats.”


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