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First Forum Between Webb and Good Shows Sharp Contrasts

Screenshot of Zoom debate
Bob Good, right, and Cameron Webb (bottom) debate in a virtual forum moderated by Allison Wrabel of the Daily Progress.

Republican Bob Good made waves when he unseated Rep. Denver Riggleman in a nominating convention in June after the congressman officiated a gay wedding.

On Wednesday, the former Liberty University athletics director faced off with Democrat Cameron Webb in a virtual forum hosted by the Senior Statesmen of Virginia. At stake: the sprawling 5th Congressional District, which stretches from Danville north through Lynchburg, Charlottesville, and the exurbs of Washington D.C. It’s been in Republican hands for a decade.

Democrats see an opening with Webb, a Black doctor, lawyer and co-director of the University of Virginia’s health policy program. Webb served as a White House fellow under Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump from 2016 to 2017. He brought up that time repeatedly during the forum.

“That experience has taught me that it’s possible to build consensus,” Webb said in the forum, which is so far their only scheduled joint appearance. “That’s not a naive thing. Our career civil servants in Washington -- they see that all the time.”

Bob Good, who is white, emphasized a conservative, pro-Trump agenda. And he cast Webb as a far-left radical, repeatedly attempting to tie him to progressives who’ve endorsed him, like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

“If my opponent was elected, he would do like all the other Democrats in Congress, and he would work to undo everything President Trump has done,” Good said.

Good sometimes misconstrued Webb’s positions, falsely claiming that he’d been endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and that Webb supported single-payer health insurance and the Green New Deal.

For his part, Good denied Webb’s charge that he didn’t support mandatory protections for pre-existing conditions.

“I don't know anybody that's not in favor of keeping pre-existing condition protections,” Good said. “Certainly I've never said that.”

Healthcare was a major theme for the debate. Webb said he supported a public option for healthcare that preserved private insurance options. Good attacked the Affordable Care Act, which he argued hadn’t led to the lower costs and more choices that its backers promised. Webb argued it was impossible to separate protections for pre-existing conditions from broader health insurance overhaul.

Good frequently returned the conversation to policing, saying he supported making assaulting a police officer a hate crime and creating an automatic death penalty for the killing of an officer. Webb pointed to an endorsement from former Campbell County Sheriff Steve Hutcherson -- whose tenure overlapped with Good’s time on the county’s board of supervisors -- as proof that Good’s rhetoric didn’t match his record.

Both candidates described formative childhoods. Webb was raised in Spotsylvania County by a mother who worked as a public school teacher and a father who worked for the Drug Enforcement Agency. He was the third of six children.

“I always tell folks that it's hard for me to walk into a room and believe that it's all about me,” Webb said.

Good described growing up in a low-income family where he had to walk a mile to the nearest store to buy groceries using food stamps before entering a Christian high school and attending Liberty University.

“'I’ve had to work for everything all of my life as long as I can remember,” Good said.

The district has been highly favorable to Republicans in recent years, with Trump winning by a 14 point margin in 2016 and Riggleman winning by over 6 points in 2018’s blue wave.

But the bitter nominating convention between Riggleman and Good fractured some Republicans; the congressman has declined to endorse his old foe. Good’s win galvanized his opponents, causing national Democrats to move the seat into their list of top targets for this November’s elections. Good has also struggled to fundraise, pulling in one-fifth as much money as Webb through the end of June.

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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