Rep. Bob Good (left) and Josh Throneburg debate at Hampden-Sydney College. Screenshot.

Less than two weeks before the Nov. 8 election, Rep. Bob Good, R-Campbell County, and Democrat Josh Throneburg laid out two very different visions for the future of Virginia’s newly redrawn 5th Congressional District during a candidates forum Wednesday at Hampden-Sydney College near Farmville. 

The incumbent – a self-proclaimed biblical conservative who is seeking a second term in Washington – and his challenger, an ordained minister from Charlottesville, sparred over several top national and international issues, including climate change, foreign policy and transgender rights. But they also found at least some common ground on President Joe Biden’s Student Loan Debt Relief Plan, the rising federal debt and border security.

“If you looked at us from a distance, what you’d see is two white, straight men, both who claim a deep conviction, a faith, and both who have a deep love of country,” Throneburg told the audience inside a crowded Crawley Center. “But if you look closer, what you will find is that the congressman and I are very, very different.”

Good had avoided debating his challenger for the entirety of his campaign and only last month agreed to Wednesday’s event with Throneburg, hosted by the Wilson Center for Leadership. 

But the format wasn’t that of a debate in the traditional sense — while both candidates shared the stage, after their respective opening statements they alternated taking questions from Hampden-Sydney students provided in advance to moderator Mark Spain of WSET. The rules prohibited follow-up questions, but Good and Throneburg had the opportunity of asking each other several questions during the last 20 minutes of the one-hour event. 

Rep. Bob Good

Good, 57, a former Campbell County supervisor who is running on a far-right platform closely aligned with former President Donald Trump’s policies, came out swinging. He painted a dark and brooding picture of an America in disarray, plagued by economic distress, crime, an invasion of migrants and shattered individual liberties – a doomsday scenario for which he blamed Democratic policies over the last two years. 

“Quite frankly, the Democrat party has declared war on America, on the Constitution and on the Founders, on faith, and on family, and the things that made America the greatest country in the history of the world,” Good said in his opening statement. 

“We’re seeing unchecked Democrat control in full display. Americans today are less safe and less secure with an open border, America has diminished standing on the national stage, crime is at record levels across the country, America is less safe with drugs pouring across our border, America is less prosperous and less free than we certainly were two years ago.”

Josh Throneburg

Under Biden’s administration and a Democratic majority in Congress, Americans have seen “unprecedented trampling” on their most basic and most essential freedoms. “Less prosperous, less free, less secure, and less united. If the Democrats had intentionally tried to ruin the country, what would they have done differently?” Good said.

Good was first elected to Congress in November 2020, after defeating Democrat Cameron Webb by 52.6% to 47.4%. He has since made waves over his refusal to accept the outcome of the presidential election that year, in which former Vice President Joe Biden defeated Trump by more than 7 million votes. Good also drew widespread criticism for claiming that COVID-19 precautions were a “hoax,” and calling the pandemic “phony.” On Wednesday, he doubled down on his previous comments, referring to the disease as the “China virus” more than once – a move straight out of Trump’s playbook. 

Throneburg, 45, announced his candidacy in early 2021. A former Republican, he grew up in rural Illinois and became a Democrat while in college, inspired by then-Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama. He won his party’s nomination without a primary after his sole opponent, gun-control activist Andy Parker, failed to make the ballot. 

On Wednesday, Throneburg from the start drew a sharp contrast between himself and his opponent, citing Good’s vote against the certification of the 2020 presidential election.

“I think faithfulness to our Constitution means that when the voters elect someone, that we listen to the voters,” Throneburg said. “But when he had that opportunity two days into his term, he rejected the will of the voters and didn’t certify our election.”

Both candidates are running in a newly reconfigured 5th District that 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 and 45.2% Democratic, it remains the most vulnerable GOP-controlled district in the commonwealth, although the inclusion of now the entire city of Lynchburg – Good’s home turf – gives the Republican another advantage. 

Good serves on the Budget and the Education and Labor committees, and he is a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus. In a recent interview with Cardinal News, Good touted having sponsored 35 pieces of legislation during his first term, which he said makes him the leader among Virginia Republicans in this Congress with the most bills sponsored, and the third highest among nearly 50 freshman Republicans. 

Almost all of Good’s bills focused on issues that he campaigned on, from trying to address border security, religious liberty, Second Amendment rights, government spending, abortion and election integrity, among others. But none of his proposals were signed into law. 

On Wednesday, Good reiterated his belief that unchecked immigration and an unsecured Southern border – with 5 million migrants crossing into the United States since 2021 – pose the biggest threat to national security in America today. 

“This president is purposely, willfully and intentionally facilitating an invasion, which is a violation of his constitutional responsibilities. It is so bad you can’t believe it unless you have seen it,” said Good, who has visited the border to Mexico five times in the last two years. “Never before in the history of our country has a president done more to intentionally harm the United States than what this president has done just with the border situation alone.” 

As a solution, Good proposed reverting back to the policies of the Trump administration, such as completing the border wall, allowing border patrol to prevent migrants from coming into the country, fully implementing the E-verify system that he said would eliminate the incentive for immigrants to illegally seek work in the U.S., and ending the so-called catch-and-release system – a practice of releasing an asylum seeker to the community while he or she awaits a hearing.

Throneburg agreed that the current status at the border is untenable. “We have a very real immigration problem that we do need to address in our country,” he said. “We do need immigration reform, we need to make sure that the border patrol has the funding that they need, and we need to create an extended guest worker visa program. As a small business I never had a problem finding work, but I always had trouble finding workers.”

Both candidates also recognized the threat of a growing national debt that recently increased to $31 trillion for the first time in the nation’s history.

“I’m probably one of the few Democrats that you’ll hear talk about the national debt,” Throneburg said, adding that it posed a “real threat” to future generations. “I am someone who thinks that fiscal responsibility is important, the congressman and I would maybe differ on how we wanted to allocate this responsibility, but I believe in that.”

But Throneburg lambasted a widespread narrative that Democrats are the big spenders while Republicans are fiscally responsible. “I want to remind everyone that Donald Trump added to our national deficit an equal amount to Barack Obama, but in only four years,” he said. “We have a spending problem in this nation, it’s not reserved for one party or the other.”

Good countered that while Republicans have been also responsible for increasing the national debt, Democrats are mostly to blame for unattainable spending. “This administration has spent $10 trillion in new spending for the first time that this has happened in the first two years. Nobody ever tell the Democrats what comes after a trillion, because I don’t want them to know.”

Good rejected the notion that Biden’s plan to eliminate up to $10,000 in federal student loan debt for millions of Americans with a maximum income of $125,000 – or a combined $250,000 for families – constituted student loan forgiveness

“First of all, it is not a student loan cancellation, it’s a student loan transfer scheme,” Good said. “The debt cannot be canceled or forgiven, but it can only be transferred to those who did not pay for it. It is immoral to make those who didn’t go to college, those who worked their way through college, those who paid off their student loans.”

Throneburg said that while he was glad to see the burden of student loan debt being addressed, he, too, would have preferred a different solution. “This is a one-time targeted tourniquet to a particular group of people,” he said of Biden’s program. “I would have loved to have seen those interest rates they have on those loans just lowered across the board to make it more affordable to anyone with student loans. I would have loved to have seen some different solutions that still address the idea of the burden of student debt, but that did it in a way that was more holistic or systematic.”

Both Throneburg and Good agreed that Pell grants should be expanded to be eligible for use for other kinds of education. 

The contrast between the two candidates became more evident on foreign policy matters such as Russia’s war against Ukraine and the looming threat of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. 

Throneburg wants to see the U.S. continue to support Ukraine’s defensive effort for which Congress has approved $66 billion since the beginning of the war in February. 

“When democracy is under attack, we have a responsibility as a country to stand up for democracies to go out and help them defend themselves,” he said. “Not only do I think that this is part of our responsibility as a democratic nation, but I am so proud of the fact we are doing it and that we are standing up for the sovereignty of a democratic nation in its attempt to protect its homeland. Yes, we have spent some money in that process, but one of the greatest adversaries we have on this planet is incredibly weakened as a result of that, and that is a benefit to our national security.”

Good has voted against most of the funding of Ukraine’s effort already. On Wednesday, he said that he is not in favor of freeing up more money. 

“We have $31 trillion in national debt, an unsecured border here in America, and yet we are committing resources to protect Ukraine’s border,” he said. “You can condemn the Russian invasion as a ruthless, brutal attack and you can hope and pray that Ukraine wins, however I haven’t seen what is the end game and what is the exit strategy for our involvement. I don’t think we want to escalate this conflict with a nuclear power.”

The U.S. should also not support Taiwan, militarily or otherwise, in the case of a Chinese invasion, he said. “Taiwan would be much safer if they had the same kind of gun rights that we have in America,” Good said. “The greatest thing to make sure we remain free are the 400 million guns that Americans own. Taiwan and Ukraine do not allow their citizens to be armed, and that has made them vulnerable to attack.” (Guns for personal use are legal in both countries, but with more restrictions than in the U.S.)  

Good and Throneburg also found themselves on opposite ends relating to international efforts to combat climate change. 

“This dishonest demonization of fossil fuels and the petroleum industry needs to stop in our country,” Good said. “Petroleum and fossil fuel are wonderful things, God put them in the ground for us to harvest them. We are the cleanest large energy producer in the world, and now you’ve had this president declare war on American energy.”

Throneburg argued that without taking action, the effects of climate change would soon create an unprecedented human disaster. 

“We’re talking about a future in which our kids and our grandkids aren’t going to be able to eat as much, (they) aren’t going to have access to clean water and clean air,” he said. “And we are worried about people coming across the border right now, think of a world where people don’t have access to food resources, they are going to be climate migrants. They will be coming here far more than anything we can imagine at the Southern border right now.”

In the final 20 minutes of Wednesday’s debate – when the candidates were allowed to ask each other a few questions – Throneburg wanted to know why Good was one of just a dozen lawmakers who voted against legislation awarding Congressional Gold Medals to members of the U.S. Capitol Police and the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department for protecting lawmakers during the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

“That was a vote that I knew was right,” Good said, adding that the legislation was “a scheme and a stunt” by Democrats politicizing the events of that day. “Think about how the Democrat party has declared war on police, they have called for the defunding of police and now they are trying to dial that back because they know they are about to get whacked in this election,” Good said.

Good in return wanted to know Throneburg’s view on a measure proposed earlier this month by Del. Elizabeth R. Guzman, D-Prince William, which a TV report said would have led to parents facing criminal charges if “they do not affirm their child’s sexual orientation and gender identity.” Guzman later called this interpretation inaccurate. 

Good made clear that he believes gender-affirming surgeries on children should be penalized. “It should be criminal to perform surgery on a child to try to pretend to change their gender, to chop things off, to maim a child forever,” he said.

Throneburg, however, said that he looked at issues pertaining to the LGBTQ community through a “lens of compassion and common sense.”

“I want to listen to what doctors and professionals say, I’m not interested in what politicians have to say about this,” he said. “I want to listen to folks who are studying this, who are treating and spending time with the people and kids in this community, and I want the best guidance they have to offer, and we should set our policies and laws based on that guidance.”

In his closing remarks, Good reiterated his record in the past two years, and he once again warned of the consequences of two more years of Democratic control of Congress.

“We have a Democrat administration that tells us whether or not we can assemble together, whether or not we can travel, whether we can worship, whether or not we can earn a living, whether or not we can send our kids to schools, or whether or not we have a say about what is being taught in our schools, how our kids are indoctrinated. Are we truly free?” he said.

Throneburg pleaded with the audience to view democracy by comparing it to marital vows. “Just because we got a democracy in 1776 doesn’t mean we get to keep it, it doesn’t mean that it survives,” he said. “Democracy can be fragile, and unless we choose that democracy, every single day, over and over again, we end up losing it.”

5th Congressional District. Courtesy of Virginia Supreme Court.

Markus Schmidt

Markus Schmidt is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach him at markus@cardinalnews.org.