WASHINGTON — Virginia is for lovers, according to the state's tourism bureau. And for one congressional candidate, that includes the love of Bigfoot.
But what kind of Bigfoot love, exactly, is the question that may come to define this competitive House race — at least for casual observers — no matter what else happens in Virginia's 5th Congressional District the rest of the campaign season.
Democrat Leslie Cockburn accused her Republican opponent, Denver Riggleman, of being a "devotee of Bigfoot erotica" in a tweet Sunday night. "[T]his is not what we need on Capitol Hill," she added sternly —before sharing another image purportedly from "Riggleman's Bigfoot erotica collection."
The tweet included a screenshot of Riggleman's Instagram account, where he had posted a drawing of Bigfoot with a rather large and strategically placed "CENSORED" bar. In the caption, Riggleman wrote that he's working on a book called "Mating Habits of Bigfoot and Why Women Want Him," which he has also referenced in several other social media posts.
It turns out that Riggleman, a former Air Force intelligence officer who owns a distillery with his wife, really does have a thing for Bigfoot. But it's not that kind of a thing, he insists, saying this is all just a long-running joke with some military buddies that his opponent is intentionally misrepresenting.
"I thought it was funny. There is no way that anybody's dumb enough to think this is real," he told The Washington Post's book critic. "I do not believe that Bigfoot is real... But I don't want to alienate any Bigfoot voters."
Riggleman was not even supposed be running for Congress this year, and was only added to the ballot in June after the seat's Republican incumbent, Tom Garrett, abruptly dropped out of the race amidst a non-Bigfoot-related scandal.
But now Riggleman is in a competitive House race in a district that Democrats have targeted, and his interest in Bigfoot — joking or not — is coming under scrutiny. Cockburn, meanwhile, has a much more conventional — but potentially more damaging — literary controversy, thanks to a book she wrote years ago that criticizes Israel in a way that critics say is anti-Semitic.
Cockburn, a former liberal journalist, denies the charge and touts her recent endorsement from the dovish pro-Israel group J-Street.
Riggleman's Bigfoot-themed Instagram posts were first noticed by the Cook Political Report on Friday, and Cockburn wasted little time seizing on them to create some uncomfortable headlines for her opponent and, perhaps, distract from her own controversies.
Riggleman co-authored a 2006 book called "Bigfoot Exterminators Inc.," which tells the "mostly true" tale of the future congressional candidate leading a high-tech hunting expedition in what he describes as a Bigfoot "hotspot" in upstate New York.
"Once you identify a hotspot, you need to conduct advanced, surreptitious surveillance and reconnaissance for months or years," Riggleman is quoted as saying, contrasting his technique with the dilettantes and scammers who are not interested in "serious Bigfoot research."
The hunting party was equipped with weapons and advanced night vision goggles, and Riggleman, a consultant with the Department of Defense, arrived with an "SUV filled with topographic and satellite maps borrowed from places we can't talk about."
At one point, they recruit a female college student who is interested in finding Bigfoot for her own reasons to aid their search. As another character explains in the final line of the book, "Bigfoots like sex, too."
Riggleman's Facebook page, in screenshots archived by the Democratic opposition research group American Bridge, features more Bigfoot content, including a photo of a statue he received as a gift from friends.