This is the second of two stories about the candidates. Read more about Rep. Bob Good in part one.
It was shortly after midnight on a November day in 2020 when Josh Throneburg sat at the dining table on his screened-in back porch of his Charlottesville home, watching the live feed of Democrat Cameron Webb, a Black physician who served on former President Barack Obama’s health care team, conceding his race against Bob Good, a former Campbell County supervisor and far-right ideologue, and the next Republican representative of Virginia’s 5th Congressional District.
“This campaign has been a battle of ideas about how to best serve the people of our district and I cannot give enough thanks to everyone who made it possible,” Webb said in his concession speech. “Congratulations to Mr. Good for his victory and I look forward to continuing to engage with him as we move forward from the election in a unified way.”
Throneburg closed his laptop, stared into the dark sky and let out a sigh. He had just moved to Charlottesville from Massachusetts with his wife, Minhee, and their two daughters, ages 7 and 12, and he was worried about his family’s future.
“My first thought was, if he [Webb] couldn’t win, who would? That question stuck with me for weeks after, because it’s not an impossible district, but a challenging district,” Throneburg said in a recent interview, sitting behind that same table where in the early morning hours of Nov. 4, 2020, he first pondered challenging the newly elected Good, who would move on to become one of the most conservative members in Congress.
“If you look at the trajectory of our planet and our democracy, as a dad you want to provide a world that is healthy, safe and flourishing, and that doesn’t feel like our trajectory right now,” Throneburg said. “I once told my wife that if there is a room where people sit and decide the future, I want to be in that room. There are lots of rooms where people make decisions, but the halls of Congress are one of them.”
Although he wasn’t a household name in his district, Throneburg, now 45, decided to throw his hat into the ring and announced his candidacy in early 2021, just as Good, his future opponent, was starting to make waves in the media by sowing doubt about the effectiveness of mask mandates, COVID vaccines and outcome of the 2020 presidential election in which Democrat Joe Biden defeated then-President Donald Trump by more than 7 million votes.
Throneburg knew that taking on Good would be an uphill battle. But he hoped that his upbringing might sway some voters.
“This is an agricultural district, and I grew up on a farm in a small town in Illinois,” he said. “I grew up as a Republican, and this is a conversative district. I’m an ordained minister and part of me thought, maybe I can connect with some voters that other Democrats would struggle connecting with.”
And unlike its reliably Republican neighbors to the west – the 6th and the 9th districts – the newly reconfigured 5th District is the third most competitive in Virginia, according to a memo that the two redistricting special masters filed with the state Supreme Court last year. Rated as 53% Republican, 45.2% Democratic – a 7.8% Republican tilt – it remains the most vulnerable GOP-controlled district in the commonwealth.
That fact has not been lost on Good, who told Cardinal News in a recent interview that his race against Webb – which he won by 52.6% to 47.4% – was “the number one takeover target by Democrats in 2020, and was considered a toss-up.”
However, the redrawn district map might favor Good. While the 5th includes Throneburg’s home Charlottesville, it shed the northern part of the district – Greene County to Fauquier County along U.S. 29 – and instead added Lynchburg and Amherst County, which is right next to Good’s home in Campbell County, and home to Liberty University, where Good once worked in the athletics department. The new map may not change the overall numbers much but it gives Good more of his Lynchburg-area base.
Political analyst Larry Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, remains skeptical when asked about Throneburg’s chances of ousting Good, because after redistricting, an already Republican tilting district added a few points to the GOP column.
“Nothing is impossible, strange things happen every election. But it’s hard not to call Good a substantial favorite,” Sabato said. “So much of politics today is determined by the two most powerful letters in the English language, D and R.”
It isn’t that Throneburg is an inadequate candidate, Sabato added. “It’s the D next to his name, and the issue positions the D implies. Bob Good is a very controversial member of Congress, a self-described biblical conservative. Democrats would just say he’s extreme. Yet if he ever loses, it is likely to be in a GOP primary – not a convention – or in a general election if the boundaries of the district change in a future redistricting. Maybe the far-right positions Good takes will also take a toll eventually.”
Throneburg said in the interview that while he was raised in a conservative household, he later became a Democrat – a transformation that took several years. “Obviously my faith is a deep part of who I am, and so much of who I am is informed by my faith,” he said. “And the way that faith forms values within me aligns more with the Democratic Party.”
It was during his university years that Throneburg began to see the world differently.
“As a college student you start thinking about stuff, and when it comes to welcoming a stranger, when it comes to care for the marginalized and those who are on the edges of society, I just found that Democratic policies were more aligned with that. And then Barack Obama came along, that was the moment when I first voted for a Democrat.”
But for Throneburg, authenticity is just as important to his campaign as his party membership, and he believes it will help him connect with voters who may have never considered voting for a Democrat.
“I’m not going to pretend to be something that I’m not in order to get elected,” he said. “But I think even with people like Trump supporters, the more time we spend with each other face to face, the more we will find that there’s actually a lot of room for us to agree on things, like there’s too much money in politics, or how to conserve our natural resources for hunting and fishing.”
Unlike his Republican opponent, who primarily focuses on federal proposals relating to the border crisis and immigration reform, the federal deficit and highly partisan issues such as critical race theory and unproven claims of a stolen presidential election, Throneburg said he’d rather stick to the kitchen-table issues that have an immediate impact on the lives of the people living in the 5th District.
“Broadband is huge, getting that into every single home in the district so people have more equal access to business opportunities, healthcare or education,” he said, referring to a challenge still affecting the rural parts of the commonwealth in particular.
“We have ignored rural communities pretty substantially in this country, and that’s why sometimes the schools are crumbling and people don’t have adequate access to healthcare.”
Throneburg grew up in Buda, a village in northern Illinois with a population of 482.
“Back then, it was small, but it was still a vibrant town, and today it is just empty,” he said. “There are still so many towns like that in the 5th District, they used to be vibrant communities, but they aren’t anymore. The young generation has left, and reinvesting in these communities would bring life back.”
Focusing on policies that would lure investment back to underserved communities would make them more attractive destinations for city dwellers seeking a more peaceful life in the countryside, Throneburg said. “Take Nelson County, it is one of the largest work-from-home communities in Virginia, but Nelson County also has broadband for everybody. When you bring that investment into a rural community, it opens up all of these opportunities for people to live out in those spaces and still work in D.C., or wherever it is.”
If elected, Throneburg said he would also work to bring in more investment in green energy and infrastructure. “This is a huge economic opportunity, we have the space to put up solar fields, factories that can produce windmills, we can get out front and create lots of great jobs and make a lot of money by creating a green economy and green manufacturing,” he said.
One issue that both candidates feel passionate about – albeit on opposite ends of the political spectrum – is abortion rights.
Good has applauded the recent Supreme Court vote that overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision which guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion. While he believes that life begins at conception and would like to see abortion banned entirely, he recently told Cardinal News that he would support legislation sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, that would allow it for up to the first 15 weeks of pregnancy.
“We see things very differently on a woman’s right to make decisions on her pregnancy, there is no doubt he has a very extreme view,” Throneburg said of his opponent. “I would probably align myself where Roe was, but he wants to criminalize doctors and women, even when the woman’s health is at risk. I’m just on the side where the woman has to be the one to make the decision, and as a pastor, I have sat with women who were facing an abortion, and the woman’s life was at risk. Under Bob Good’s policy, she wouldn’t be able to terminate an unviable pregnancy.”
Despite their shared belief in Christianity, the two men also differ on same-sex marriage. Good opposes – and has campaigned against – the recognition of any marriage other than traditional marriage between a man and a woman. But for Throneburg, the Republican’s position reeks of hypocrisy.
“One of the things that bothers me in particular about Mr. Good is that he constantly makes biblical quotes about same-sex marriage. There are lots and lots of Bible verses about divorce, but I have never once heard him quote anything about divorce, ever,” he said.
“I would have a little bit more respect for him if he would propose some kind of law that outlaws divorce in this country, because then he’d be actually following his extreme version of Christianity. But he’ll never do that,” Throneburg said, “because he’s not being biblical, he’s a bigot, and that’s what I’d tell him.”
But his biggest challenge remains getting his name and message out, Throneburg said. Because he became his party’s nominee without a primary, he barely had the opportunity of flexing his campaign skills before heading into the general election.
Despite running a much more visible campaign, Andy Parker, who also sought the Democratic nomination for the district, conceded in April. Parker, who became a nationally known gun control advocate after his daughter Alison, a reporter with CBS affiliate WDBJ in Roanoke, and photographer Adam Ward were shot to death live on camera in 2015, had failed to submit the 1,000 valid signatures required to be on the ballot for the party’s June 21 primary. “I think Andy Parker has an incredible story, he started with name recognition that I didn’t have,” Throneburg said. “So maybe it hurt my chances by not seeing that through.”
With the more than $200,000 he raised since announcing his bid, Parker has since launched his own PAC aimed at supporting Democratic candidates in Virginia and around the country. Last month, he had a billboard put up across the street from Good’s home church in Lynchburg stating “Rep. Bob Good’s got bad ideas.” The sign made no mention of Throneburg.
“I don’t think we share the same issues, the things we were talking about were very different,” Throneburg said of Parker, with whom he said he has texted a few times. “We have different passions, different styles, we’re kind of made of different stuff.”
As of June 30, the most recent reporting deadline, Throneburg’s campaign has raised a little over $446,000, and earlier this week released its first television ad. But with $848,000, Good has pulled in almost double – and he has yet to debate his Democratic challenger, although he recently agreed to square off with him at a candidates forum at Hampden-Sydney College near Farmville on Oct. 26, just under two weeks before the election.
However, Good won’t go head-to-head with Throneburg. Instead, both candidates will appear one after the other and answer the same questions.
“I think part of the reason why Bob Good isn’t debating me is that he’s just trying to keep my name as unknown as he possibly can, that’s his strategy,” Throneburg said. “His calculation is that the more I am known, the worse his chances get.”
When asked if Good deserves to be put in the same category as Republican firebrands like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green of Georgia or Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado – who get little work done in Congress but who contribute much fodder to the national conversation – Throneburg chuckled.
“There are some Republicans who don’t have name recognition or don’t drive the national discourse, but they get stuff done. And there are some Republicans who don’t get stuff done, but they drive the discourse,” Throneburg said. “But Bob Good, he does neither.”