In 2014, economics professor Dave Brat turned the political world upside-down when he upset House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the GOP primary by taking a hard line on illegal immigration. But four years later, he's at risk of getting swept out by a Democratic wave in a rapidly moderating district anchored by the professional Richmond suburbs. After courts redrew the 7th CD in 2016, President Trump took just 50 percent here, down from Mitt Romney's 56 percent in 2012.
In June, former undercover CIA operative Abigail Spanberger crushed a well-funded Democratic primary opponent with 73 percent of the vote in an impressive display of grassroots support. Spanberger grew up in Henrico County (the 7th CD) writing a diary in code. As a pragmatic woman with a non-political resume, she could offer a problematic contrast for Brat, a Freedom Caucus member who complained last year about women "in my grill" at town halls.
The top of the ticket could also be a big problem for Brat. Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine is highly popular in the Richmond suburbs, while ultra-conservative GOP Senate nominee Corey Stewart is a highly polarizing figure who lost the 7th CD 61 percent to 33 percent in his primary. In 2017, well-funded GOP gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie carried the 7th CD by four points. If Stewart isn't competitive, Brat could suffer if Republicans stay home.
Brat, who has shied away from questions about Stewart, has never had to run in a competitive general election before. He's mended fences with GOP leadership and is running with the NRCC's active help. Spanberger has enjoyed help from EMILY's List and raised $903,000 by May. Ironically, the white collar Republicans in the West End Richmond suburbs who long supported Cantor could be the swing voters in this race. It's a Toss Up.
Image: Abigail Spanberger | Credit: Joe Mahoney/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP