In one of the more bizarre episodes of the midterm elections this year, the race for Virginia's 5th Congressional District has come down to a fight over "Bigfoot erotica" and whether one candidate is into it.
Democratic candidate Leslie Cockburn tweeted on Sunday that, in addition to campaigning with a white supremacist, Republican candidate Denver Riggleman was "a devotee of Bigfoot erotica" -- both charges that Riggleman denied in an interview with CNN.
"My opponent Denver Riggleman, running mate of Corey Stewart, was caught on camera campaigning with a white supremacist. Now he has been exposed as a devotee of Bigfoot erotica. This is not what we need on Capitol Hill," Cockburn tweeted along with a photo of a nude Bigfoot, apparently from Riggleman's Instagram.
Riggleman, however, told CNN that the accusation about a sexual interest in Bigfoot was absurd and acknowledged writing two books on Bigfoot, including an unpublished text called "The Mating Habits of Bigfoot and Why Women Want Him," both of which he said were "parody" and stemmed from running jokes he had with friends from the military.
Riggleman also said did not believe in Bigfoot, but added that he did not want to "alienate" the Bigfoot vote and said the entire thing was a joke that his opponent had seized upon unfairly.
"I think we probably jumped the shark on stupid," Riggleman said.
Riggleman's Bigfoot history seemed to have first gained traction after The Cook Political Report noted it in its recent overview of House races. The report pointed out that the Facebook author page for the Bigfoot book had recently been deleted and that Riggleman's Instagram was set to private, but used to be "peppered with images of what can only be described as Bigfoot-themed erotic art."
In a statement, Cockburn campaign manager Louise Bruce accused Riggleman of "scrubbing his social media of 'Bigfoot erotica' and who knows what else."
Riggleman said they put his Instagram on private to avoid "weird comments," but at this point that was past them, so they would look at making the account public again.
As the Bigfoot story gained traction online, the Riggleman campaign seemed to lean into it by sharing a video from conservative libertarian activist Matt Kibbe posted on Monday afternoon in which Riggleman played up the strange news cycle and went into a pretty extensive explanation about different "Bigfoot belief systems."
"Check out this video on my research into the Bigfoot myth," Riggelman tweeted. "I sure don't know what Bigfoot Erotica is, @LeslieCockburn knows more about that than I do apparently - but I can talk about Bigfoot theories all day. See the video here #bigfoot #va05."
As indicated by Cockburn's tweet, the race has been one of the flashpoints in Virginia politics this cycle, particularly in reference to the Senate race between Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine and Republican nominee Corey Stewart. Stewart has come under fire for incendiary remarks on the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year and his defense of Confederate symbols.
Cockburn's accusation toward Riggleman about campaigning with a white supremacist seemed to reference a post on the progressive website "Blue Virginia," and attributed to the Virginia Democratic Party, that said Riggleman had campaigned alongside an avowed white supremacist.
Riggleman wrote an op-ed in The Roanoke Times last week disavowing white supremacy and the racist demonstrators in Charlottesville, the site of deadly white supremacist violence last year. Riggleman referenced the op-ed when asked by CNN about the accusations and said he did not know if the person he was accused of campaigning with, Isaac Smith, was a white nationalist, adding that he thought Smith was "just a kid."
A report in The Washington Post named Smith as co-founding a group, Unity and Security for America (USA)," with Jason Kessler, who organized the Charlottesville rally last year. The Post describes the organization as "a fledgling group that calls for 'defending Western Civilization.'"
The Virginia congressional seat became an open race after GOP Rep. Tom Garrett announced he would not seek re-election and intended to seek treatment for alcoholism. Republicans ultimately opted to field Riggleman, the owner of a local distillery, and Democrats went with Cockburn, a longtime journalist who worked for several major news networks.
The district contains the city of Charlottesville and leans relatively Republican. Garrett won his election with a healthy margin in 2016, and CNN has labeled the race "likely Republican" in its House ratings.