2014-06-18 / Front Page

Post Cantor, Dems aiming high in 7th

Titanic upset opens a new chapter
By Jim McConnell

Cantor Cantor Handpicked by Tom Bliley to succeed him as the 7th District’s man in Congress, Eric Cantor had the good fortune for 14 years to represent a district as reliably Republican as any in Virginia.

Cantor’s district turned on him with a vengeance last week, replacing him with a little-known economics professor who has never held elected office.

In so doing, the voters gave local Democrats a glimmer of hope of wresting control of a House seat not long ago considered all but unwinnable.

“The deck is still stacked against Democrats, but I get the sense that the playing field has been leveled somewhat,” said Elizabeth Hardin, chair of the Chesterfield Democratic Committee.

One Democrat in particular was aided most by Dave Brat’s stunning upset victory in last Tuesday’s Republican primary. Ironically, it was one of Brat’s fellow professors at Randolph-Macon College.

Brat Brat When Jack Trammell received the Democratic nomination during a conference call June 8, he knew he was signing on for an uphill battle.

No Democrat has seriously threatened to win the piece of turf now known as the 7th District since Bliley’s election 34 years ago.

Even local attorney Wayne Powell couldn’t surpass 42 percent of the vote in his 2012 campaign against Cantor – and his was widely regarded as the most effective challenge that Cantor had ever faced from a Democrat.

But with Cantor out of the picture, demolished at the polls by an underfunded political novice, the task now seems at least a little less daunting.

“At the end of the day it’s a predominantly Republican district. But where there’s life, where there’s goodwill, there’s always hope,” Powell said.

Given an unexpected opportunity to snag a prized seat, expect the national Democratic Party apparatus to throw money behind an effort to tag Brat as a tea party extremist whose views don’t mesh with the district’s moderate Republicans.

“He was nominated by conservative idealogues and people who had grudges against Eric Cantor; that’s certainly not a broad base of support,” said Abbi Easter, the 7th District Democratic chair. “I would hope there are many Republicans who are uncomfortable that [Brat] is now the leading edge of their movement.”

Cantor’s demise notwithstanding, one fact remains: Trammell is going to have to attract some Republican voters to beat Brat.

Thanks to Virginia’s gerrymandered Congressional districts, there are many more Republicans than Democrats living in the 7th District.

“That’s the reddest district in Virginia,” said veteran Democratic strategist Dave “Mudcat” Saunders, who advised Powell during his 2012 House run.

How red is it? That depends on whom you talk to.

Powell said that the district is a “plus-12” for Republicans, meaning that Brat would begin the race to November’s general election with a 12 percentage point advantage over Trammell.

Brat’s people believe it’s closer to “plus-seven.”

Either way, it’s a significant advantage.

“I think I’m going to win big,” Brat said last week, about 48 hours after a primary victory he described as “a miracle.”

Asked how he plans to handle the change of role from decided underdog to prohibitive favorite, Brat noted that he sprung one of the most unlikely upsets in American political history by successfully articulating the tenets of the Virginia Republican creed.

He intends to take the same approach to the general election.

“The Democrats are going up against a populist campaign that just won by a large margin with huge turnout,” he added. “I’m confident we’re going to do it again.”

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