September 19, 2018 News & Press Releases

New York Times: Spanberger/Brat race key to control of the House

by Trip Gabriel, New York Times

The Five Battlefields for Control of the House

By Trip Gabriel, New York Times

Virginia's Seventh District

From downtown Richmond, former capital of the Confederacy, West Broad Street shoots like an arrow into the heart of a rapidly changing Virginia. It heads northwest through affluent outer suburbs, including a mall with Michael Kors and Orvis stores, before abruptly giving way to cornfields.

Where the suburbs quit, Sam Wright’s battered white pickup displays an old bumper sticker for John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, and a new one for Abigail Spanberger, the Democrat running for Congress in Virginia’s Seventh District.

“I have absolutely no use for the G.O.P. any longer,’’ said Mr. Wright, a retired counselor to the blind.

Democrats hope to win perhaps half a dozen — or more — of these seats, and they are increasingly optimistic here.

Over the summer, he met with his representative, Dave Brat, a Republican, at the Goochland County courthouse to express support for the special counsel investigation of the 2016 election.

“His rebuttal was that I watch too much CNN,” Mr. Wright said.

Districts like Virginia’s Seventh, covering suburbs and rural swaths outside medium-size cities, normally would not be within Democrats’ reach. But with anger swelling at the president, these 23 districts are in play, including in Kansas, Kentucky and Washington State.

Almost all the districts were won by Mr. Trump in 2016. And the president retains considerable support in these majority-white districts, especially within the business community and among voters with conservative social views. These seats will be tricky for Democrats to win, but they need to pick up only a handful to make their math add up to a House majority.

And Democrats are winning over voters like Alan Campbell, a retired Treasury Department investigator, who supported Mr. Brat and Mr. Trump in 2016 but has soured on both. “From what Spanberger says, she appears to have good character, and that’s something missing right now,” he said.

Laura Watson, a real estate agent who supports Mr. Brat, doesn’t see the district flipping, or for that matter, the House. “Most people I know have not changed their mind about where they stand,” she said.

Aware of these districts’ conservative underpinnings, Democrats have recruited centrist candidates to contest them, including many with patriotic appeal as military veterans or former national security officials. Ms. Spanberger, 39, worked for the C.I.A. abroad recruiting spies.

Mr. Brat, 54, a former economics professor, is attempting to link Ms. Spanberger to left-wing ideas like “open borders” and Medicare for all, which he says will tank the economy. Ms. Spanberger supports neither of these policies and has pledged not to support Nancy Pelosi for House speaker.

From what Spanberger says, she appears to have good character, and that’s something missing right now.’

Alan Campbell of Virginia’s Seventh District, on Abigail Spanberger, the Democratic candidate

Mr. Brat rocketed to national attention in 2014 by defeating Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, in a primary, attacking him as soft on immigration. But the district has changed with suburban growth outside Richmond, and Democrats made gains there in Virginia’s 2017 state elections. He currently has a slight edge over Ms. Spanberger, according to a Times/Siena College poll.

In a column in The Richmond Times-Dispatch, Mr. Brat blamed newcomers for importing “blue-state values.” He cited Henrico County, Ms. Spanberger’s home, which supported George W. Bush’s re-election by 11,000 votes, but backed Hillary Clinton in 2016 by more than 30,000.