Denver Riggleman, the Republican candidate accused of circulating Bigfoot erotica, and later of “liking” racist, sexist, and otherwise offensive Facebook pages, has won his bid for a US House seat in Virginia. He ran an extremely close race against Democrat Leslie Cockburn in the state’s 5th Congressional District, which includes the city of Charlottesville.
With 97% of precincts reporting, Riggleman was leading Tuesday night 53–47% in a district Trump won by 11 points in 2016. A New York Times poll that closed on Oct. 22 showed a tight contest in the district, with Cockburn marginally ahead, 46% to 45%, with 10% of voters undecided.
Riggleman will replace Republican Rep. Tom Garrett, who announced earlier this year that he would not seek reelection after several anonymous staffers accused him and his wife of mistreatment, including making the aides the couple’s “servants,” as Politico wrote. Shortly after the story became public, Garrett’s chief of staff resigned, and the congressman then held a bizarre press conference in which he declared he would still seek reelection. Days later, Garrett changed course and said he would not seek another term, citing a struggle with alcohol abuse.
From there, the race for the open Virginia House seat had no shortage of bizarre turns. Riggleman’s name was infamously introduced to a national audience in late July when Cockburn — who is the mother of actor Olivia Wilde — tweeted a screenshot that purported to show very weird, and NSFW, images of Bigfoot that Riggleman had posted to Instagram.
Cockburn described the images as “Bigfoot erotica”; Riggleman soon made his Instagram account private.
In a subsequent interview with the Daily Progress, a news outlet in Charlottesville, Virginia, Riggleman called Cockburn’s tweet and accusations “absurd.” He denied he was sharing Bigfoot erotica, and said that he was simply joking around with friends. Apparently, the joke involved the upcoming publication of Riggleman’s book, titled The Mating Habits of Bigfoot and Why Women Want Him.
“My buddies thought this pic was fitting for my birthday next week and to celebrate my new book release in a month or two,” Riggleman said.
Cockburn, a former investigative journalist, also faced controversy over a book she wrote with her husband almost 30 years ago, titled Dangerous Liaison: The Inside Story of the U.S.-Israeli Covert Relationship, which was highly critical of Israel. Republicans used the book to charge the Democratic candidate with anti-Semitism, an allegation Cockburn has strongly denied.
“This is a book from 27 years ago,” she told the New York Times in May. “It was a tough book looking at the U.S.-Israeli covert operations, intelligence and military. So, yeah, it’s a book of journalism from a long time ago.”
Riggleman was also hit with another controversy in mid-October. According to screenshots taken by Democratic opposition research firm American Bridge, which were provided to BuzzFeed News, Riggleman appeared to have “liked” a number of Facebook pages that shared racist, sexist, and rape-joke posts.
Screenshots and live links from these Facebook pages showed memes and other images demeaning women and their bodies, and satirizing rape against women. Other pages apparently joked about slavery in the name of protecting gun rights, and one page repeatedly referred to unverified news articles involving black subjects as “thugs.”
All of the pages — including one that was still “liked” by Riggleman at the time BuzzFeed News published its article last month — have since either been “unliked” from his page or disappeared from the social media platform altogether.
Jimmy Keady, a spokesperson for Riggleman’s campaign, told BuzzFeed News that the Republican simply “does not remember liking some of these pages or being a part of these groups.”
A separate screenshot provided by American Bridge purported to show a comment by Riggleman on a meme of Sen. Elizabeth Warren as a Native American woman: “She is such an idiot,” Riggleman apparently wrote with his Facebook account.
When asked about this specific comment, Keady responded with a statement saying, “Denver is a normal guy who is running for office and is not a politician.”
Riggleman is now a politician.
On Oct. 29, a week ahead of the midterm vote, President Donald Trump tweeted an endorsement of Riggleman, calling him a “popular guy who really knows how to get the job done.”
“He has my Total Endorsement,” the president wrote.