- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Republican congressional candidate David Brat would not commit to supporting John A. Boehner as House speaker next year and isn’t ready to say whether he backs President Obama’s tactics to fight Islamic State terrorists in Syria and Iraq.

Instead, the man who toppled House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a June primary and is poised to win Virginia’s 7th Congressional District race says he is focused on getting to know his district better.

“When it comes to retail politics, I’ve walked every street, met every small business,” said Mr. Brat, an economics professor at a small college just north of Richmond. “That’s what I’m trying to do is just stay local, talk with as many people as I can to get real knowledge of the district.”

Policywise, Mr. Brat said, he wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act and crack down on illegal immigration.

Some pundits have partially attributed Mr. Brat’s stunning win to the criticisms he leveled over immigration at Mr. Cantor who, while opposed to granting broad amnesty to illegal immigrants, appeared a bit more flexible about providing a path toward legal status for young illegal immigrants unwittingly brought to the U.S. as children.

But the big issue for Mr. Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia, is the economy.

He casually — yet earnestly — rattled off the names of economists and recent pieces he has read, including by Clinton Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers, who also served as director of the National Economic Council in the Obama administration, and the libertarian Cato Institute.

Although the $17 trillion national debt is a problem, he said, the public hasn’t focused on the tens of trillions of dollars in unfunded liabilities associated with federal entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security, which are expected to be major cash drains in coming decades.

“I just want to explain, just direct to the American people, and give ‘em those numbers and say, ‘Do you know this?’” he said.

On other issues, though, Mr. Brat is more circumspect. Asked whether he would support Mr. Boehner for another term in the House’s top leadership slot, he demurred, saying he pledged to run his campaign on principles and not personalities and the “last thing” he wanted was to get involved with intraparty jostling.

He said the country is at war with the Islamic State terrorist group and wants to make sure the United States continues to put pressure on them, but he added that he needs to see more specific plans from the administration.

“I don’t see a strategy coming out of the White House in terms of how to achieve a certain objective,” he said. “I want to know what is the objective and what are the tools we’re going to put in place to achieve that objective.”

Such answers are emblematic of the unique position in which the political newcomer finds himself after his shocking upset over Mr. Cantor, said Dan Palazzolo, a political science professor at the University of Richmond.

“He’s drinking from a fire hose,” Mr. Palazzolo said. “He’s going to need to go through a transition from being a professor to being a legislator and a representative, and that’s what he’s going through. And that will continue.”

Mr. Brat also has had to balance such issues of national interest with his stated goal of staying local as he continues to get to know the district.

For example, conservative talk radio host Laura Ingraham, who gave him a boost during the primary campaign, attended a rally for Mr. Brat with Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama over the weekend, adding some national imprimatur on the race and the candidate’s hard-line positions on illegal immigration.

“Not every candidate has to deal with that,” Mr. Palazzolo said. “They’re not replacing the majority leader. Cantor was a national figure — thus, Brat’s campaign is going to attract a national audience.”

Mr. Brat also got a major boost Tuesday when 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney threw his support behind the campaign and urged his social media followers to contribute to the Brat campaign.

“Dave is a positive, solutions-oriented conservative who can bring bipartisan solutions to Congress that will restore our economy, get our fiscal house in order, and once again make America the strongest nation on earth,” Mr. Romney wrote on his Facebook page.

Jack Trammell, a fellow Randolph-Macon professor and the Democratic candidate in the race, said the contrast between his own pledge to protect programs such as Social Security and fix Obamacare and Mr. Brat’s agenda will be revealed in the coming weeks.

“I think part of the reason why more people don’t understand more about my opponent and more about me is that we’re both relative newcomers,” he said.

Mr. Trammell and Libertarian candidate James Carr have pushed Mr. Brat to attend more candidate forums. He pointed out that he campaigned, at least in part, on the premise that Mr. Cantor had lost touch with his constituents.

“The idea is you protect the win, whereas Mr. Trammell and I are out there trying to gain a win,” Mr. Carr said.

Mr. Brat’s campaign countered by saying the campaign is participating in at least three debates and forums, and that the hundreds of events on the candidate’s schedule since the primary are published on the campaign’s Facebook page.

“He’s out speaking to hundreds and often thousands of people every week, talking about the issues and answering questions and concerns,” spokesman Brian Gottstein said in an email. “Dave just never stops going out and meeting with people, from early in the morning to late at night. He seems to draw endless energy from them.”

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