Virginia-7: Dave Brat (R)

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Nov. 4, 2014, 3:12 p.m.

Born: Ju­ly 27, 1964

Fam­ily: Mar­ried, Laura Brat; two chil­dren

Re­li­gion: Pres­by­teri­an

Edu­ca­tion: Hope Col­lege, B.A., 1986; Prin­ceton Theo­lo­gic­al Sem­in­ary, M.Div., 1990; Amer­ic­an Uni­versity, Ph.D., 1995

Ca­reer: Eco­nom­ics pro­fess­or, 1996-2014; le­gis­lat­ive as­sist­ant, 2005-12; World Bank con­sult­ant, 1994; man­age­ment in­form­a­tion con­sult­ant, 1986-87

Elec­ted Of­fice: None

The greatest polit­ic­al shock in this elec­tion cycle — and ar­gu­ably in years — was Dave Brat’s GOP primary up­set of House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor. An ob­scure col­lege pro­fess­or, Brat tapped in­to voters’ anti-Wash­ing­ton mood to topple the House’s No. 2 Re­pub­lic­an be­fore coast­ing to vic­tory over Demo­crat Jack Tram­mell in Vir­gin­ia’s 7th Dis­trict.

Brat is an un­likely tea-party hero. Born and raised in Dear­born, Mich., he stud­ied busi­ness and re­li­gion be­fore com­plet­ing a Ph.D. in eco­nom­ics at Amer­ic­an Uni­versity. Since 1996, he has taught eco­nom­ics at Ran­dolph-Ma­con Col­lege in Ash­land, Va., fo­cus­ing in par­tic­u­lar on the eth­ics of cap­it­al­ism. Apart from a failed run in 2011 for the state House of Del­eg­ates, he stayed out of polit­ics and led the quiet life of an aca­dem­ic.

But Brat’s polit­ic­al tim­ing was im­pec­cable. After re­dis­trict­ing, the 7th be­came more con­ser­vat­ive, drop­ping parts of Rich­mond and tak­ing in more of New Kent County. Can­tor had thought that would shore up his reelec­tion, but in fact it brought in more rur­al voters amen­able to the tea-party mes­sage rather than white-col­lar pro­fes­sion­als who had made up his base. Many felt that Can­tor’s lead­er­ship du­ties and fun­drais­ing in­creas­ingly kept him away from the re­tail polit­ics that his con­stitu­ents ex­pec­ted.

The race ul­ti­mately turned on the is­sue of im­mig­ra­tion. Al­though the House GOP re­fused to take up a bi­par­tis­an bill passed by the Sen­ate last year, Can­tor staked out a po­s­i­tion to the left of many in his party when he pro­posed lim­ited re­forms cov­er­ing chil­dren of un­doc­u­mented work­ers who were brought in­to the United States as minors. Con­ser­vat­ives saw that as a bridge too far, and Brat picked up on their an­ger.

As the primary cam­paign pro­gressed, Can­tor com­mit­ted sev­er­al un­forced er­rors. He used much of his huge cash ad­vant­age — rais­ing $5.7 mil­lion to Brat’s $231,000 — to launch a neg­at­ive ad cam­paign that in­creased Brat’s name re­cog­ni­tion rather than hurt­ing him. Can­tor also took com­fort from the only two polls is­sued, both of which happened to be fa­vor­able, while ig­nor­ing the out­size at­ten­tion that Brat was get­ting from con­ser­vat­ive me­dia stars such as Laura In­gra­ham.

On primary day in June, Brat bested Can­tor by a stun­ning 11 per­cent­age points. The first House lead­er to ever lose a primary, Can­tor soon resigned his seat to take a job with an in­vest­ment bank, while Brat settled in­to the more cau­tious role of a front-run­ner. Can­tor’s resig­na­tion meant that the Novem­ber elec­tion is both a spe­cial and gen­er­al con­test, al­low­ing Brat to be sworn in right away and ac­quire three months’ seni­or­ity over oth­er fresh­men.

Helen Fessenden contributed to this article.
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