Representative Denver Riggleman, a freshman Republican from Virginia, lost a bitterly contested primary race decided in an unusual drive-through state convention, weighed down by outrage among party activists that he officiated at a same-sex wedding.
In a result announced early Sunday, Bob Good, a former athletics official at Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Liberty University who describes himself as a “biblical conservative,” ousted Mr. Riggleman, a distillery owner and former Air Force intelligence officer with a libertarian streak. Mr. Good captured 58 percent of the vote in a convention held Saturday that was decided by roughly 2,400 party delegates, according to party officials.
Mr. Riggleman, as well as outside observers, denounced the setup — enabled by state laws that allow local party officials to choose congressional nominees by conventions instead of traditional primary elections — which has tended to benefit hard-line candidates. As of Sunday morning, Mr. Riggleman had not conceded.
“Voter fraud has been a hallmark of this nomination process and I will not stand for it,” Mr. Riggleman wrote on Twitter late Saturday night. The Virginia Republican Party, he continued, “needs to reevaluate their priorities. We are evaluating all our options at this time.”
Mr. Riggleman’s campaign had objected to the inclusion of a trove of votes from a specific county delegation, raising concerns about whether a handful of ballots had been cast by eligible delegates. The objections were overruled by the committee overseeing the convention.
At his victory party early Sunday morning, Mr. Good brushed aside Mr. Riggleman’s complaints as “what losers say.” He pledged to continue emphasizing “the true conservative principles that we presented for this campaign, the true contrast that we showed as we emphasize our Judeo-Christian principles upon which our nation was founded.”
Mr. Good’s victory is a welcome outcome for Democrats, who had eyed Mr. Riggleman’s seat as potentially competitive in November and had hoped the former Liberty University employee, who had struggled mightily in past months to raise funds, would prevail. His nomination may further create a headache for Virginia Republicans because Mr. Good failed to correctly file the paperwork to be on the ballot in the general election in November. The Virginia Republican Party has asked the State Board of Elections to extend the filing deadline.
Holding a convention rather than a primary election made it much more difficult for voters in the mostly rural, sprawling district to weigh in on the contest. Voters had to mail or physically hand in paperwork and pass a vetting process to become delegates, and then drive to the convention location, which was placed in the county where Mr. Good formerly served as supervisor. For some delegates in the district, which has a larger area than New Jersey, casting their vote may have required driving up to three hours to the church in Lynchburg where the convention was held.
Such a setup was expected to favor Mr. Good and draw hard-right party stalwarts in the district. The same set of Virginia rules has previously been invoked by the Republican Party to favor conservative candidates, including in 2012, when Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, now the acting deputy secretary of homeland security, clinched his party’s nomination for governor after his opponent concluded that he would not be viable among the convention’s delegates.
Mr. Riggleman, who was endorsed by President Trump and is a member of the arch-conservative Freedom Caucus, nevertheless came under fire from conservative activists in the district after he officiated at the summer wedding of two of his former campaign volunteers, Alex Pisciarino and Anthony “Rek” LeCounte. Mr. Good said Mr. Riggleman had “betrayed the trust” of Republicans in the district and was out of step with the party base. Mr. Riggleman has fiercely defended his decision to officiate the wedding, casting it a matter of individual and personal liberty.
“It saddens me that the decision made by this small group of delegates is going to be taken as a sign that Republicans writ large are not inclusive and accepting of all sorts of different people, most notably L.G.B.T.Q. folks,” Mr. Pisciarino said in an interview. “It unfairly casts a shadow on the message we wanted to send by discussing the wedding back in July.”
Mr. LeCounte said he and Mr. Pisciarino had spoken with Mr. Riggleman after the election results were called and thanked the congressman and his family for their support.
“At the end of the day, they’ll always be our friends, we’ll always love them,” Mr. LeCounte said. “We’ll always be grateful that leaders like them stood up and showed real courage in the face of truly hateful people and a hateful process.”