Can momentum from primary win carry Republican into November?
Now in the high-profile race to represent Virginia’s 7th District in the United States House of Representatives, Republican Dave Brat said his education career and involvement in various governors’ committees and boards led him to this point.
“I always wanted to get involved and make the theory enter the real world, so that’s always been a goal of mine,” Brat said.
But the Republican primary race, where Brat, 50, defeated 14-year 7th District incumbent U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, became much more than Brat ever expected.
“Running for Congress is great, but this turned into even more than a congressional [race], this had more implications [and] people are interpreting [the Republican primary race] win almost to the national context— what’s the meaning of it?” he said. “That part I did not anticipate at all.”
Now, Brat, the economics department’s chairman at Randolph-Macon College, is on the campaign trail seeking support in the general election Nov. 4, Brat faces Democratic candidate Jack Trammell, an associate professor of sociology and director of disability support services at R-MC.
However, both candidates will be taking a leave of absence during the fall semester so they can campaign fulltime.
Though he’s in the middle of a highly watched contest, Brat’s education didn’t start with politics.
The Michigan native attended Hope College in Holland, Mich. for business. Then, Brat worked in management and information systems at an office in Detroit.
He then attended Princeton’s Theological Seminary for a master’s degree in divinity and had a “political semester” at Wesley Seminary at American University in Washington D.C.
“[I] caught the political bug,” Brat said.
His desire to learn more did not stop there. At American University, he earned his Ph.D in economics.
Afterwards, Brat was looking for jobs at liberal arts colleges and landed the position at Randolph-Macon College, which is where he’s worked for the past 18 years.
Though Brat said his education career and work path has led him into this position now, he has never held political office. Two years ago, he did run in a state delegate race, but did not muster enough votes for a win.
He has been actively involved with the Henrico Republican Committee for the past 10 years. In addition, he served on the governor’s economic advisory board, under two governors, and served on the Richmond Metropolitan Authority board.
Brat has done some work at the General Assembly for about eight years, under State Sen. Walter Stosch (R-12) where he helped him on education issues. During that time, Brat said he worked on a tuition assistance grant for children with disabilities.
But his background and education are not what put him in the early June spotlight; it was winning the Republican primary and knocking Cantor from his seat in Congress. Cantor, who many thought was next in line for Speaker of the House, had held office since 2000 and resigned Monday.
Contributing to the Republican primary upset was widespread Tea Party support for Brat. Brat believes that’s because of his focus on fiscal issues such as taxes and the deficit.
“If anyone’s paying attention, we’ve got some very severe problems coming our way,” Brat said.
He said that one issue is that “entitlement programs” like Social Security will use the entire federal budget by 2040, crediting the information to the Congressional Budget Office.
“No one mentions this,” he said. “That’s a major problem when you don’t have one dollar left for anything else.”
He told this to audiences during his campaign and pointed out that it’s not being addressed.
“I’m pledging to take that on, because we’re throwing that on the next generation of kids,” he said. “They’re going to have to pay their taxes and pay for their households, kids and pay that bill.”
Another aspect of Brat’s campaign that he feels gave him the advantage in the primary was that he went out and met citizens in the district by knocking on doors and found out about issues that are important to them.
“And the numbers were very favorable,” he said.
Brat’s promises to voters are another reason he thinks he had an advantage and still does.
“I promised to term-limit myself to 12 years and put in a bill to do that,” he said.
If elected, he also pledged to voters that he would meet with constituents from every county in the 7th District each month.
“I think people said, ‘Hey, that’s new and improved,’” Brat said.
There are three main issues that Brat’s campaigning on.
First off is the fiscal piece. He wants to focus on economic growth and jobs.
His plan to improve the current job market and economy is to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which he believes is causing many employed individuals to lose their jobs.
“That’s hurting job creation incredibly,” Brat said.
Another contributor, he said, is the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations requiring farmers to build fences around ponds on their land.
“It’s a huge cost to a lot of small businesses,” Brat said.
Brat believes there’s a lack of jobs for citizens because bigger companies are employing immigrants, “which lowers the wage-rate for everybody.” He said those businesses should create apprenticeship programs and teach unemployed individuals the skills they need to do the jobs.
In addition, he wants to address “torte reform” as a way to lower healthcare costs.
“Twenty percent of healthcare is tied up in the courtroom, because of everyone suing everybody,” Brat said.
The other big part of bettering the economy and creating more jobs, Brat said, is improving the education system so that students are more prepared to get careers.
He said that students taking Science Technology Engineering and Math courses are more likely to get jobs.
The last main issue of Brat’s platform is “amnesty” and immigration, because he said that after legislation such as the Kids Act, which would’ve allowed undocumented children to become citizens, he was worried that children would “flood in” to the country, adding that is now happening.
“That’s just bad policy,” Brat said.
Using his expertise in subjects like “Third World Economics,” which he taught at Randolph-Macon College, Brat said it’s important to use the “rule of law” and increase economic growth in other countries.
“That’s what we did with Japan and Germany, after World War II, our arch enemies,” he said. “We did what was good for them — we gave them good, strong constitutions, free markets, rule of law. Now, they’re growing, we’re trading with them [and] we’re friends.”
Brat believes the U.S. should close the border to illegal immigrants so that there can be a “safe, orderly, legal process” for legal immigration, he said.
As for Hanover County, which is a part of the 7th District, Brat said one of the biggest issues facing citizens is with the job market.
“The job and labor market nationally is kind of the same everywhere. People are scared to leave their jobs. They’re scared of losing their healthcare, their benefits,” he said.
Brat said that the EPA laws for agriculture are also impacting Hanoverian farmers because many have a lot of land and fencing must go up around any body of water on the property.
Brat believes that the issue is because the laws are coming from the federal level.
“I want to bring the federal government’s role back down to the state and local [levels],” he said. “Because your politicians know your state better, your local area better and they know the real issues that are at play.”
Being in Congress right now isn’t the most glorious job because it has the lowest approval rating in history.
Though, one of Brat’s sayings on the campaign trail is, “You don’t go into politics to make you happy, you kind of go in on a sense of duty,” he said.
He said it does bring some happiness, but overall it’s a hard job that requires you to work 24/7 and include your family in the mix. But, Brat said when people overcome challenges, they often find happiness.
“I’ve been training myself for this day,” he said. “So hopefully I’ll get up there and do the right thing.”