By Laura Vozzella, Washington Post
RICHMOND — Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), locked in a tough reelection campaign against Democrat Abigail Spanberger, has backed out of what may have been their only televised debate, her campaign said Monday.
The rival campaigns in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District had announced one debate, to take place Oct. 15 at a community college in Culpeper. That debate will be livestreamed and possibly shown on C-SPAN, but the C-SPAN participation remains uncertain.
The two teams also had privately agreed to a second debate, to take place on Oct. 25 at St. Christopher’s School in Richmond, which the local CBS affiliate was planning to air, Spanberger’s campaign said.
Brat’s campaign pulled back from the Richmond event late last week, saying that it will decide whether to participate in a second debate only after the first one takes place, Spanberger’s campaign said.
“We are disappointed by your campaign’s sudden withdrawal from the metro Richmond debate,” Spanberger campaign manager Dana Bye wrote in a letter Monday to Phil Rapp, a longtime adviser to Brat who recently joined the campaign.
“We believed arrangements were being made in good faith when campaign manager Katey Price confirmed on August 21, 2018, that the Brat campaign would participate in the October 25, 2018 debate,” the letter said. “Subsequently, Ms. Price conducted a walkthrough of the proposed debate venue on September 12 with the host, local TV affiliate WTVR, in attendance. The Brat campaigned re-confirmed their participation in the debate during the walkthrough.”
Price and Rapp did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Stephen Hayes, general manger at WTVR, declined to comment, referring questions to the two campaigns, as did Janine Davila, director of auxiliary operations at St. Christopher’s.
Brat and Spanberger are battling to represent a suburban-rural swath of central Virginia, a longtime GOP stronghold widely seen as within reach of Democrats in the Trump era.
Brat, a former Randoph-Macon College economics professor, won the seat four years ago after pulling off a shocking primary upset over Eric Cantor, then the House Majority leader. Despite lingering resentment from some Cantor allies, he won re-election two years later by 16 percentage points.
But he faces a strong challenge from Spanberger, a former CIA officer who has used her national security credentials to appeal to moderate Republicans and swing voters. She could benefit from antipathy toward Trump in the district’s suburban areas.
The Cook Political Report classifies the race as a “toss-up.”
By limiting debates, Brat risks feeding the Democrats’ narrative that he is avoiding public appearances. Brat has shied away from freewheeling town hall meetings since 2017, when protesters enraged by the election of President Trump and Republican attempts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act shouted him down at two forums.
Brat held his first town hall meeting in more than a year on Friday. The gathering, held in the middle of a work day and focused veterans’ healthcare — on an issue popular with both sides of the aisle — drew a small, well-behaved crowd.
The Culpeper debate will take place at Germanna Community College’s Daniel Technology Center. The Culpeper Chamber of Commerce is putting on the event and made 175 free tickets available online at 12:01 a.m. Monday a first come, first served basis.
They were snapped up in about a minute, said Lorraine Carter, the chamber’s administrative and marketing coordinator. C-SPAN might broadcast the debate, but details were still being worked out, she said.
Bye’s letter suggested that the logistical demands of staging a TV debate would make it impossible to organize one for Oct. 25 even if Brat decided he wanted to participate after the first debate.
“As it stands, the Richmond debate was the only confirmed event to be televised, allowing the greatest number of 7th district residents to hear from the candidates directly,” Bye wrote. “By not honoring this agreement, voters of the 7th are losing a crucial opportunity to hear the candidates voice their respective visions for the district.”