Written by Brandon Jarvis
“Dave Brat is a liberal-college professor.” – Words from the former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor back in 2014. Cantor was eventually embarrassed by losing in a primary to an unknown candidate that embodied the Tea Party movement of the time.
Dave Brat, a small-town professor boasted very conservative ideologies while being backed by the Tea Party. After taking the nomination from Cantor, Cantor resigned his position leading to a special-election. Brat then went on to win that special-election later that year in November. Two years later he was re-elected with 57% of the vote over the Democratic candidate Eileen Bedell in 2016.
The presidential election in 2016 lead to a movement across the country to resist the Trump administration. The movement hit its stride in January of 2017 with the Women’s March. The result of this resistance built momentum for Democrats across Virginia. That momentum was apparent in a landmark year for the state Democrats in November 2017. Ralph Northam won with a sweeping victory, but that was expected. Gillespie even tried to distance himself from Trump, but he still lost big. A promising yet eye-opening number for the Democrats is that Gillespie still won the 7th district with 51%. That 51% is much tighter than the former statewide elections in this typically Conservative district.
The House of Delegates also saw a huge shift to the left in the 7th, with both Dawn Adams and Debra Rodman taking a Republican’s job right in the heart of the district. The momentum is clear, the resistance is real, but to much surprise, the far-right Conservative candidate Dave Brat is still favored to win. With his advantage dwindling slightly, the Democrats still have to work to make up for the “red” territories in the district. With that being said, Larry J. Sabato’s “Crystal Ball” just downgraded the district from “likely Republican” to “leans Republican”. Sabato defends the move with estimations that the district’s Republicans not being as far-right as Brat. Citing his membership to the heavily-conservative ‘House Freedom Caucus.
Two Democrats are aiming to face Brat in November. But, first they have to compete against each other to win the June 12th primary. Both candidates have been working to reach across the district and display a transparency and visibility that Democrats say Brat lacks. Both of these candidates detailed part of their experiences talking to voters across the district with Richmond 2day.
Abigail Spanberger addressed the efforts to focus on the 7th district’s ramifications versus a higher ideology. This is relevant because Dave Brat is a member of the House Freedom Caucus, a far-right conservative subgroup that usually votes as one.
“ People want leaders in Washington who will try to understand the challenges they are facing and work to address them. We don’t have that type of representation here in the district. We have an elected representative who is more focused on defending his ideology than on understanding the negative ramifications of his votes on his constituents’ lives. “
Dan Ward, the other half of the Democratic primary field discussed constituents conveying the message to him that current representation is not helping them with any issues that are personal to them.
“I hear about healthcare. People are hurting and this administration, and Dave Brat, do not care. I’m hearing a lot about kids feeling unsafe to go to school because of gun violence and Congress’s failure to address the problem (or stand up to the NRA), and I hear a lot of fears that this administration is destroying the institutions that protect our democracy.”
Regardless of the widespread disapproval of Brat, he is still a Republican-incumbent from a district that has a rural-quality that every Conservative dreams to possess. The rural vote in the 7th district makes up for the Democratic hot zones closer to Richmond. For example, Powhatan County on the western side of the district tends to have a Republican turnout close to 75%, with at least 10 more precincts typically going at least 70% Republican within the district. Northam only losing the 7th district by 4 points to Gillespie, who is far-more moderate than Brat, means Gillespie could have pulled in some of the Independent voters that may not want to vote for Brat this November.
That being said, the Democrats will have to perform at their highest level while reaching out to every voter to bring the “Blue Wave” crashing into central Virginia.
Complaints submitted by Democrats”
- Brat along with 10 other Republicans signed a letter asking the AG Jeff Session to investigate Hillary Clinton, Jim Comey, Sally Yates, Loretta Lynch, and Andrew McCabe.
- His campaign promoted conspiracy theorist tweets about crisis actors in the Parkland shooting. A quote from the RVA Magazine article describing how his staff handled this incident. “When RVA Mag called the Washington, D.C. office for comment, multiple individuals refused to use their last names or identify themselves, eventually being transferred to someone described as “Mark, our chief of staff”.
- Congressman Dave Brat committed a cheap political stunt to respond to a “cheap political stunt”. Instead of admitting that he may have been mistaken in not listening to the constituents that sent him multiple letters leading up to the deadly Charlottesville rally – he tried to excuse his ignorance by stating that one of the letters he received was from the husband of one of his political opponents.
- He has been accused of losing touch with his constituents, by a lot of constituents. The Washington Times ran a story addressing the rumors. “ Dave Brat became a political celebrity in 2014 when he ousted then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a Republican primary, accusing him of having spent too much time in Washington and losing touch with his constituents. Mr. Brat is now facing those same criticisms from Democrats, who said he hasn’t held a town-hall meeting in nearly a year and is ducking the concerns of Virginia voters in a state that’s increasingly tilting away from the conservative lawmaker.”